The iPhone SE
The iPhone SE
  • Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on global supply chains, with the supply of smartphones particularly affected.
  • In South Africa, Apple products are starting to run short, with Cell C's online store entirely out of iPhones.
  • On the online stores for both MTN and Vodacom, the newer iPhone SE is out of stock, with customers having to wait up to four weeks for their hardware.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

The supply of smartphones in South Africa is being hit by global supply-chain disruptions due to Covid-19, with long waiting times for the latest iPhone.

Both Cell C and Vodacom have now admitted they're struggling to get hold of Apple stock, and word from the transport sector is that there may be reason to worry about cellphones in general. 

A new report by vehicle tracking company Ctrack found that "shortages of high-end consumer items such as cell phones have been recorded, due to air freight volumes being well below normal".

There is no indication yet that air freight will recover any time soon.

Smartphones are a big market. According to a study by GfK South Africa, some 13.5 million new smartphones were sold in South Africa last year – 7.2% more than the previous year.

In March, an IDC report said the Middle-East and Africa smartphone market was vulnerable to supply-chain constraints coming from China, which is where Apple's iPhones are manufactured.

“The challenges in China around production and the supply chain are heavily affecting the flow of mobile phone shipments into the region," it said.

In its June report, the IDC said it expected global smartphone shipments to decline by 18.2% in the first half of the year.

But the shortages are starting to be felt more broadly around the world. India is particularly hard-hit, with the Economic Times reporting that smartphone shipments to India fell by 48% compared to the previous year.

Newer iPhones are hard to get in South Africa – but older models are fine for now

In South Africa, Cell C appears to be the hardest hit, with no iPhones available for sale on its website.

The company confirmed that it had been experiencing iPhone shortages since Januar, and that certain products from Samsung, Huawei, and LG were also affected.

Cell C blamed the supply-chain challenges caused by the pandemic, as well as lockdown in South Africa. It also pointed to the increased demand caused by Chinese New Year, which fell on 25 January.

According to Cell C the situation has improved since January. "We are mostly able to meet the required demand at this stage," a company spokesperson said.

It appears as if operators have significant stock of older models in warehouses, but are struggling to get hold of certain new models, such as the Apple iPhone SE, released in March.

According to a Vodacom spokesperson, the company “did not experience material stock issues” due to the slowdown of air freight in April and May – but it did admit that it was struggling to get hold of certain Apple products.

"There are constraints being experienced currently on a few of the models and we are working with Apple to reestablish consistent supply to meet market demand," said a company spokesperson.

According to the company’s own online store, the iPhone SE is out of stock, with a message saying customers may need to wait “up to four weeks” for the device to be delivered.

In response to questions from Business Insider South Africa, MTN acknowledged that some of their suppliers had experienced production and supply interruptions. However, MTN's Jacqui O’Sullivan, executive for corporate affairs, said it had not experienced major stock shortages.

"Our approach to purchase bulk devices from manufactures way in advance has assisted in overcoming these challenges and we have a well-managed inventory process in place," she said.

The company’s online store shows Apple iPhone 7,X and 11 models for sale – but there is no sign of the iPhone SE.

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