x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Mi-Fone scouts for UAE factory

Mobile phones stamped with "Made in the UAE" tags could become a reality as early as next year, with Mi-Fi planning to open a factory here.

Mobile phones stamped with "Made in the UAE" tags could become a reality as early as next year, with Mi-Fone planning to open a factory here, says the company's chief executive.

Mi-Fone is a mobile handset maker based in Hong Kong that specialises in selling low-cost devices to the African market. Since launching in 2008, it has sold more than 1 million handsets across the continent that cost between US$15 (Dh55) and $70.

Although Mi-Fone's handsets are all manufactured in China, it is scouting a new location in the UAE, since the company's margins are becoming reduced because of rising costs and the volatile state of the yuan, said Alpesh Patel, the company's chief executive and co-founder.

Mr Patel said the UAE offered the company logistical support to enable trade with about 30 countries within a four-hour air-freight zone, many of which - including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan - had growing needs for affordable handsets.

"Having an assembly and software house here means that we'll be able to give [distributors] their own brand quicker with lower quantity and relevant regional software," said Mr Patel.

"We'll be able to move the product from here to Iran, for example, much faster than from China without the hassle … It's a no-brainer."

Mr Patel said the factory should cost $15 million to 18 million to build, with about 3 million devices manufactured annually. It will employ up to 250 people, with many of them labourers sourced from the construction sector.

"The reason behind that is the majority of the staff is what you call manual workers, but there will be an element of technical people from India which we'll train here for the software part of the business," said Mr Patel.

Although components will be shipped in from China, the majority of the assembly will be done here. A team of software engineers will help to localise the devices for the Middle Eastern market.

The UAE is not known for its electronic manufacturing prowess. Asus, the Taiwanese computer maker, has a facility in Jebal Ali, although the plant merely takes semi-assembled goods and packages them for sale in the region.

Globalfoundries, the customised microchip foundry owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, is expected to usher in a new wave of high-tech manufacturing when it opens its facility in the capital in 2015.

Matthew Reed, the head of mobile research in the Middle East and Africa for Informa Telecoms & Media, said that Mi-Fone could be successful, given its small size and focus on the African and Middle Eastern market.

"If it's done at the right price and given that their target market is in Africa, Mi-Fone can save on transportation costs by manufacturing here rather than shipping them from China," he said.

dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae