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Nigerian fintech gets $360M, mints unicorn, draws Chinese VC – TechCrunch

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November 2019 could mark when Nigeria (arguably) became Africa’s unofficial capital for fintech investment and digital finance startups.

The month saw $360 million invested in Nigerian focused payment ventures. That is equivalent to roughly one-third of all the startup VC raised for the entire continent in 2018, according to Partech stats.

A notable trend-within-the-trend is that more than half — or $170 million — of the funding to Nigerian fintech ventures in November came from Chinese investors. This marks a pivot in China’s engagement with Africa to tech. We’ll get to that.

Before the big Chinese backed rounds, one of Nigeria’s earliest fintech companies, Interswitch, confirmed its $1 billion valuation after Visa took a minority stake in the company. Interswitch would not disclose the amount to TechCrunch, but Sky News reporting pegged it at $200 million for 20%.

Founded in 2002 by Mitchell Elegbe, Interswitch pioneered the infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly paper-ledger and cash-based economy.

The company now provides much of the tech-wiring for Nigeria’s online banking system that serves Africa’s largest economy and population. Interswitch offers a number of personal and business finance products, including its Verve payment cards and Quickteller payment app.

The financial services firm has expanded its physical presence to Uganda, Gambia and Kenya . The Nigerian company also sells its products in 23 African countries and launched a partnership in August for Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network.

Visa and Interswitch touted the equity investment as a strategic collaboration between the two companies, without a lot of detail on what that will mean.

One point TechCrunch did lock down is Interswitch’s (long-awaited) and imminent IPO. A source close to the matter said the company will list on a major exchange by mid-2020.

For the near to medium-term, Interswitch could stand as Africa’s sole tech-unicorn, as e-commerce venture Jumia’s volatile share-price and declining market-cap — since an April IPO — have dropped the company’s valuation below $1 billion.

Circling back to China, November was the month that signaled Chinese actors are all in on African tech.

In two separate rounds, Chinese investors put $220 million into OPay and PalmPay — two fledgling startups with plans to scale in Nigeria and the broader continent.

PalmPay, a consumer oriented payments product, went live last month with a $40 million seed-round (one of the largest in Africa in 2019) led by Africa’s biggest mobile-phone seller — China’s Transsion.

The startup was upfront about its ambitions, stating its goals to become “Africa’s largest financial services platform,” in a company release.

To that end, PalmPay conveniently entered a strategic partnership with its lead investor. The startup’s payment app will come pre-installed on Transsion’s mobile device brands, such as Tecno, in Africa — for an estimated reach of 20 million phones.

PalmPay also launched in Ghana in November and its UK and Africa based CEO, Greg Reeve, confirmed plans to expand to additional African countries in 2020.

OPay’s $120 million Series B was announced several days after the PalmPay news and came only months after the mobile-based fintech venture raised $50 million.

Founded by Chinese owned consumer internet company Opera — and backed by 9 Chinese investors — OPay is the payment utility for a suite of Opera developed internet based commercial products in Nigeria. These include ride-hail apps ORide and OCar and food delivery service OFood.

With its latest Series A, OPay announced it would expand in Kenya, South Africa, and Ghana.

Though it wasn’t fintech, Chinese investors also backed a (reported) $30 million Series B for East African trucking logistics company Lori Systems in November.

With OPay, PalmPay, and Lori Systems, startups in Africa have raised a combined $240 million from 15 Chinese investors in a span of months.

There are a number of things to note and watch out for here, as TechCrunch reporting has illuminated (and will continue to do in follow-on coverage).

These moves mark a next chapter in China’s engagement in Africa and could raise some new issues. Hereto, the country’s interaction with Africa’s tech ecosystem has been relatively light compared to China’s deal-making on infrastructure and commodities.

There continues to be plenty of debate (and critique) of China’s role in Africa. This new digital-phase will certainly add a fresh component to all that. One thing to track will be data-privacy and national-security concerns that may emerge around Chinese actors investing heavily in African mobile consumer platforms.

We’ve seen lines (allegedly) blur on these matters between Chinese state and private-sector actors with companies such as Huawei.

As OPera and PalmPay expand, they may need to do some reassuring of African regulators as countries (such as Kenya) establish more formal consumer protection protocols for digital platforms.

One more thing to follow on OPay’s funding and planned expansion is the extent to which it puts Opera (and its entire suite of consumer internet products) in competition with multiple actors in Africa’s startup ecosystem. Opera’s Africa ventures could go head to head with Uber, Jumia, and M-Pesa — the mobile money-product that put Kenya out front on digital finance in Africa before Nigeria.

Shifting back to American engagement in African tech, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey was on the continent in November. No sooner than he’d finished his first trip, Dorsey announced plans to move to Africa in 2020, for 3 to 6 months, saying on Twitter “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!).”

We still don’t know much about what this last trip — or his future foray — mean in terms of concrete partnerships, investment, or market moves in Africa from Dorsey and his companies.

He visited Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Ethiopia and met with leaders at Nigeria’s CcHub (Bosun Tijani), Ethiopia’s Ice Addis (Markos Lemming), and did some meetings with fintech founders in Lagos (Paga’s Tayo Oviosu).

I know most of the organizations and people Dorsey talked to pretty well and nothing has shaken out yet in terms of partnership or investment news from his recent trip.

On what could come out of Dorsey’s 2020 move to Africa, per his tweet and news highlighted in this roundup, a good bet would be it will have something to with fintech and Square.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch

African tech around the ‘net



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Best 5G phones to buy in first half of 2021 – Beyond iPhone 12

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The iPhone 12 series comprising iPhone 12 Pro Max – finest 5G phone yet – is an outright choice for Apple fanboys. The 5G coverage is excellent and paired to the 5nm A14 Bionic chipset, these make a perfect combo of power and performance. The possibility of owning an iPhone 12 is bleak if you don’t fancy the Apple ecosystem and have an inclined preference for Android. What are the best handsets that you can gun for considering there are so many 5G phones cropping up with each passing day?

5G smartphones are expensive at the moment yet they are the way forward. It’s only a matter of time before these become a staple frankly for offering way faster wireless speeds than 4G. Arguably, there is time still before 5G is full-proof and the faster mmWave-based network is well established, but 5G is currently more real than ever before, and it’s fitting then that you future-proof your smartphone by upgrading to 5G device this year.

These currently available – few on the horizon – 5G smartphones, we have listed here, are not just etched with 5G and let other aspects slip. These devices have state-of-the-art processors, mammoth processing memory, and of course cameras to drool over. Price is of course a factor but OEMs are trying to cut some corners – in the non-flagship segment – to offer more affordable phones publicizing 5G support. Here are then the best 5G Android smartphones you should buy within the first half of 2021.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Matching the iPhone 12 Pro Max shoulder to shoulder, and even bettering it in bits, Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best 5G phone for Android users with deeper pockets. Dressed in new colors (from its predecessors) with matte finish for a classier appeal, the phone has Infinity-O Dynamic AMOLED display measuring 6.8-inches and offering 120Hz refresh rate. The phone for the first time brings S Pen compatibility to the Galaxy S series, and for the good we are discussing, it supports all 5G bands and also Wi-Fi 6E if you have a router to take care of that.

Meeting its power needs from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor under its hood, the Samsung flagship has stunning cameras – three on the back and a 40MP selfie shooter. The rear camera module comprises 108MP primary camera, 12MP ultra-wide lens, and 10MP telephoto camera. Capable of recording 8K videos, Galaxy S21 Ultra comes in a range of memory configurations topped by 16GB RAM and 512GB UFS 3.1 storage priced at $1,380.

Google Pixel 4a 5G

Some may argue in favor of Google Pixel 5 as a better alternative, but we lineup the Pixel 4a 5G for its affordable tag despite having ¾th of the same DNA as its elder sibling and wonderful software experience –backed by Google – which sets the Pixel offering in a league of its own. The phone rests under the $500 price point – making it a must-have budget 5G smartphone. It supports both Sub-6 GHz and the faster mmWave networks like the Pixel 5 with two primary caveats.

Pixel 4a 5G has 60Hz FHD+ 6.2-inch display in comparison to 90Hz on the Pixel 5, and it comes in just black hue, while its sibling touts sorta sage in addition to just black. Everything else from Snapdragon 765G processor to 128GB UFS 2.1 storage is similar on the two devices.

Of course, you get 8GB of RAM on Pixel 5 as opposed to only 6GB on Pixel 4a 5G, the latter is powered by 3,885mAh battery and has 12.2MP primary and 16MP ultra-wide camera on the back. If you’re into music and don’t mind compromising dust, water-proofing on the Pixel 5, the Pixel 4a 5G has headphone jack for your good.

Xiaomi Mi 11

Xiaomi Mi 11, probably the best flagship from the Chinese OEM to date, is directly comparable to the brand’s own Redmi K40 Pro+, but since the latter is available in China for now, we prefer the globally available Mi 11 as the better choice. Redmi K40 Pro+ offers many similar features for a significantly lesser price but international availability – if it happens – may change the ball game, so it’s wiser to consider Xiaomi Mi 11 a full-proof option to invest in.

Xiaomi Mi 11 comes with a very attractive 6.81-inch Quad HD+ AMOLED curved screen that renders a better screen-to-body ratio, and per DisplayMate, provides highest visible screen resolution out there. Powered by Snapdragon 888 paired with up to 12GB RAM, 256GB UFS 3.1 onboard storage; the dual 5G SIM capable Xiaomi Mi 11 supports Sub-6 GHz network.

For the optics, the phone has a triple rear camera setup comprising 108MP main camera with OIS, 13MP ultra-wide lens, and 5MP macro camera. A 20-megapixel lens makes for a selfie shooter. What really turns the flow in Xiaomi Mi 11’s favor is the phone’s 4,600mAh battery that supports 50W wired and wireless charging, and 10W reverse charging to juice up an odd gadget wirelessly.

OnePlus 9

OnePlus is gearing up a new flagship in OnePlus 9, which will lock heads with other competitors – especially the Samsung S21 series – for the top 5G smartphone slot. Rumored to feature a 6.5-inch 120Hz display, the phone, according to company CEO Pete Lau is slated for March 8 release. There is no word on the price, but we can presume it to start at around $900.

The most recent OnePlus 8T was a lost cause for the company, now to make a befitting comeback, the Chinese OEM is expected to stock the 9 series phone with at least Snapdragon 870 5G, though there is a possibility of Snapdragon 888 processor making the final cut. The phone packed with Ultrashot triple camera setup on the back will have a left-aligned punch-hole selfie camera, and a 4,500mAh battery capable of supporting 65W fast charging.

Carrying on from the 8T, the OnePlus 9 could feature 45W wireless charging and reverse charging options as well. The phone is likely to support Sub-6 GHz and mmWave 5G network and should make a flagship to vouch for provided OnePlus can ensure it is not overpriced.

Realme GT 5G

Realme GT 5G is a device-specific to China at this point with the possibility of venturing out to India and select European markets in the near future. That may be a put-off for users stateside but take nothing away from this true-flagship killer. It ventures into that domain with top-tier Snapdragon 888 powering its guts. Priced at roughly $430, it is the cheapest Snapdragon 888 powered 5G smartphone out there.

In addition to the spectacular processing power, Realme GT 5G will feature 120Hz, 6.43-inch Samsung OLED display with 2400×1080 pixel resolution. The phone may slightly fall short in the optics with 64MP Sony IMX682 main shooter, 8MP ultra-wide, and 2MP macro camera; it makes up with 12GB RAM, up to 256GB of UFS 3.1 native storage, and 4,500mAh battery that supports 65W fast charging.

ASUS ROG Phone 5

If a 5G phone can add dedicated gaming prowess, it’s a perfect recipe to sell. ASUS Republic of Gamers’ Phones have cut out a niche for themselves in the gaming arena, and the latest iteration in the series – the ROG Phone 5 – marries this awesome combo to present itself as a 5G smartphone to watch out for. Expected to launch on March 10, the 6.78-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED display supporting 1080 x 2340 pixels resolution has 144Hz screen refresh rate.

The ROG Phone 5 is likely to feature a triple camera setup on the back and have four microphones and symmetrical dual front-facing speakers. Drawing power from Snapdragon 888 SoC the new gaming phone will re-introduce the 3.5mm jack and have memory configuration of up to 16GB RAM and 512GB UFS 3.1 storage.

The dual-band 5G smartphone is likely to have a secondary LCD or LED matrix display on its back panel, which would possibly display notification and function as a touch controller while gaming. ROG Phone 5 will come with 6,000mAh battery capable of charging at blistering speeds with 65W charger. 10W reverse charging is an added plus.

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Fitbit Ace 3 leaked: A fitness tracker your kid will probably want

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Today the Fitbit Ace 3 leaked in almost all ways, appearing in press photos, with press details, and attached to a reveal date. The Fitbit Ace 3 is (as the name implies) the third version of Fitbit’s kid-aimed fitness tracker, appearing here in black and blue. This device works with a larger OLED display than its predecessors, with features that suggest it’ll be able to remain active and awake for days on end.

The Fitbit Ace 3 was leaked by WinFuture today from almost all angles. This device is reported to roll with a 1.47-inch OLED touchscreen display in gray. It’s quite likely this device will have a simple-as-possible display to make the best use of the battery that sits under the hood. With grayscale only – or JUST black and white – this watch could last for days.

According to leaked specifications, this device has a full charge time of 2 hours, that delivering then a runtime of 192 hours. That’s a full 8 days on a single charge!

The leaked data on this device suggests it’ll track the user’s movements to deliver distance measurements, calorie consumption (somehow, magically?) and sleep monitor data. This device has a built-in pedometer, too.

You’ll connect to this device with Bluetooth and change settings with connected apps on Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. The device is “waterproof” to some degree*, and it’ll work with a “family account” as housed on the smartphone of the wearer’s parent.

*As noted by WinFuture, since this device’s predecessor can be submerged in water as deep as 50 meters for a short period of time, we can probably safely assume this new model will be at least as ready to take on the elements.

Per the leak, this Fitbit Ace 3 wearable device will be revealed at an event (or simple press release) on March 15, 2021. This device will likely cost similar to previously released Fitbit Ace devices, and it’ll be released in at least two color combinations. One is black and red, the other is blue and green.

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Samsung Galaxy XCover 5 ready for rugged phone future

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The next Samsung smartphone is the Galaxy XCover 5, revealed for the first time this week. This device works with some of the most modern smartphone features and abilities and has a rugged exterior for protection against the elements and everyday hardcore life. It’s not the most extravagant device in the world – but it doesn’t need to be!

The Samsung Galaxy XCover 5 works with a 5.3” HD+ TFT (Full Front) display with overall phone dimensions at 147.1 x 71.6 x 9.2mm. Inside this device works with a Samsung-designed Exynos 850 (Octa 2.0GHz) chipset with 4GB RAM and 64GB internal storage.

This device has a very baseline set of cameras, with a 16-megapixel camera on the back with autofocus and an f/1.8 aperture. Up front is a 5-megapixel camera with an f/2.2 aperture. It’ll be able to capture the most basic of photos and videos – but don’t expect anything particularly fantastic!

There’s a removable battery inside – 3,000mAh of battery power inside, with 15W fast charging support. You’ll charge with USB-C*, and you’ll be able to remove and replace the battery at will. Back about a decade ago, this sort of feature was standard with most smartphones. Now it’s shocking and quite appreciated!

*This device also has POGO pins for use with POGO pin charge docks. You’ll want to make certain you have a compatible charger to make use of this POGO pin system, mind you – and there’s no QI-standard wireless charging to speak of, largely because you’ll either get wireless charging OR a removable battery in a phone.

This device is ready to face off against whatever workplace you’re situated in, courtesy of IP68 Water and Dust Resistance. This device is also MIL-STD810H certified (AKA the department of defense test method standard for environmental engineering considerations and laboratory tests.)

Depending on the market in which this device is purchased, you’ll find either single SIM or dual-SIM support. NFC appears in every version of the device, as well as an accelerometer, proximity sensor, geomagnetic sensor, light sensor, and gyroscope.

The Samsung Galaxy XCover 5 was announced with a release date in March 2021 – with a variety of exact dates in each of the markets in which the device is released. Asia, Latin America, and Europe will see this device released first, followed by other regions “at a later date.”

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