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Microsoft on mobile grows in South Africa

– Microsoft, trying to find growth markets for its mobile products, is projecting that rising demand in South Africa will help it pass BlackBerry and Android and pave the way for further gains on the continent.

The company, working with hardware partners such as Nokia and HTC, plans to become South Africa’s No. 1 smartphone provider by 2016, Gustavo Fuchs, who runs its Windows Phone business in Africa and Middle East, said in an interview. The company plans models across a range of prices to lure users in the continent’s biggest economy, where the average household income is about $13,500 a year.

Africa will be the fastest-growing market by wireless subscribers over the next five years, according to consulting firm A.T. Kearney. Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is seeking areas of growth for its mobile business, which lags far behind Apple and Google’s Android that combined account for about 90 percent of the global smartphone market.

“With a low-smartphone-penetration market, Windows Phone has a bigger chance to be the first smartphone for users,” Fuchs said. “The smartphone snowball effect has started.”

Africa’s handset ownership will grow to 85 percent of the population in 2015 from about 73 percent last year, reaching 900 million users, A.T. Kearney estimates. In contrast, in several developed markets in Europe, North America and Asia growth has slowed as penetration has surpassed 100 percent.

More than 59 million phones were shipped to Africa and the Middle East in the three months through December, up 16 percent from the previous quarter, according to market researcher IDC.