Brands such as Samsung are now selling phones in Kenya without chargers, which is against the regulator’s guidelines.

In 2018, Kenya’s ICT regulator, the Communications Authority (CA), published guidelines on features and technical specifications for mobile cellular devices imported into and distributed in the country. The guidelines outlined the basic requirements and technical standards that mobile cellular devices imported and distributed in Kenya must meet. The regulations covered a wide range of mobile cellular devices, including handheld devices like smartphones and feature phones, portable devices, vehicle-mounted devices, RF interface cards, and modems that connect to public mobile cellular networks using various technologies such as GSM. It’s important to note that the guidelines were not limited to the mentioned devices but encompassed a wider scope.

Phone manufacturers are breaking the rules, and the regulator has done nothing much. The guidelines cannot be found on the regulator’s portal, meaning they must have been removed. Nonetheless, enforcement would have made more sense now when people in Kenya and other markets purchase devices without key accessories described in the document. For instance, the guidelines state, “A mobile cellular device shall be equipped with a wired or wireless earpiece facility.” These are earphones that customers use to listen to music or answer phone calls. Most devices officially sold in Kenya no longer ship with wired or wireless headsets.

Another controversial decision that phone makers have made is selling phones without a charging brick. According to local regulations, this is not supposed to be the case. “The AC Adaptor for a mobile cellular device shall be fitted with a suitable and appropriate power supply cord and mains plug that meets the standards established by the regulatory body in charge of electricity in Kenya,” reads part of the regulations. The trend was started by Apple in 2020 when it launched the iPhone 12 series, which was sold without a charger. Other companies have followed suit, including Samsung, which started selling its phones in Kenya, such as the S23 lineup and select A-series smartphones without a charger in the box.

The companies have mentioned environmental concerns for dropping chargers and earphones from phone packages. They argue that they are trying to reduce their environmental impact by reducing the amount of packaging and waste generated when they ship their devices. This helps to reduce the amount of e-waste that is produced. However, the major reason is cost savings. Smartphone brands save billions of dollars by not including chargers and earphones in the box. They do not have to pay for manufacturing and shipping these accessories.

Phone brands are also in the business of making a killing from selling accessories to consumers. Apple started the trend with wireless earbuds (AirPods), which other brands replicated. The companies popularised Bluetooth audio, and removing earphones from packages forced consumers to spend more on wireless earbuds. The same argument can be made for chargers. For instance, some Samsung smartphones support up to 45W charging speeds but do not ship 45W bricks. Customers have to spend more on fast-charging bricks, which would have the same environmental impact, but at least manufacturers make money from the purchase.

All is not lost because some manufacturers such as Chinese original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like BBK Electronics (OPPO, vivo, and others), Transsion (TECNO, Infinix, and itel) and Xiaomi, among other brands, still ship their devices with charging bricks, cables, and earphones. We hope they will not follow the trend set by established brands and abandon packaging key accessories for their customers.

TechCabal reached out to the CA via different channels to clarify why the guidelines are not being followed but received no response when filing this report.

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Kenn Abuya Senior Reporter

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