"At Airtel, we are focused on migrating, existing and new customers from the traditional feature phones to android smartphones to take advantage of Airtel's 3G networks. We anticipate high uptake levels within the first six months of operations," Airtel Africa CEO Christian de Faria said in a statement.
The Airtel Red smartphone, based on Android KitKat, has 4GB of inbuilt storage with expandability support via microSD card (up to 32GB), a 1300mAh battery, front and rear 3-megapixel cameras, a dual-core Qualcomm CPU (unspecified chipset), and 512MB of RAM. It features a 3.5-inch HVGA (320x480 pixel) display.
The device will be sold at $53 subject to various governments levies and available at local retail outlets, the statement added.
It is available in Seychelles, Uganda and Burkina Faso markets with 14 other Airtel operating countries expected to launch the mobile devices over the next few weeks.
"Special attention was given to the device layout and the user interface to provide quick and simple access to services like Airtel mobile money and popular social media applications to our customers," Faria said.
The phone has feedback options to allow Airtel to adapt the interface in line with customer feedback and research.
The company is driving the new smartphone campaign to help accelerate data adoption in sub-Saharan Africa, currently witnessing one of the strongest increases in mobile data use in the world, the statement said.
Experts suggest that mobile Internet traffic across Africa will double between 2014 and 2015, and will see a 20-fold increase by the end of the decade.
Airtel currently has the widest 3G network in Africa, with a presence across 17 markets.
According to the June 2014 sub-Saharan African mobility reports, data usage in Africa is growing and 3G technology is expected to become the dominant technology across sub-Sahara region by 2017, outstripping 2G in the region.