The move is being touted as game-changing for the African continent where cellphone penetration is growing, but still lags significantly behind the rest of the world.

Teaming up with Chinese chipmaker Unison and using KaiOS, a feature phone operating system that runs on almost 50 million smart feature phones globally, MTN has designed a smart feature phone that will cost between $20 (R284) and $25 (R355).

“This initiative contributes to the achievement of one of our key goals to provide affordable data-enabled handsets to our customers and by so doing, remove some of the barriers to mobile internet adoption in Africa,” MTN CEO Rob Shuter said at the annual AfricaCom conference this week.

“This device is very familiar to our 150 million customers who are not yet on a smartphone. It has a keyboard (it doesn’t have a touch-screen), and a very long battery life, which is important for many of our customers who still struggle with regular recharging of devices,” he said.

The device, which has yet to be named, features smartphone-like capabilities with access to the 3G network, unlike the 2G network that smart features ordinarily run on, and will feature most of the essential Google applications and social media apps like Google Maps, Google Assistance, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

The phone will also boast a dual sim functionality, with Bluetooth, GPS, a 2,4″ screen, and a front and back camera. Its battery life is comparable to Apple’s iPhone XS which has a 2658 mAh battery or the iPhone 6 (1810 mAh), with MTN’s device boasting a battery life of 2000 mAh.

The devices are expected to be released in SA and Nigeria in the first quarter of next year.

Shuter also announced the network giant’s plans to relaunch its mobile money offering in SA early next year, with a first-time launch in Nigeria during the second quarter of 2019.