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Orange signs exclusive deal with China’s Baidu for Middle East and Africa

Etisalat has called on vendor Alcatel-Lucent to extend its LTE coverage in the UAE

France-based mobile operator Orange has signed an exclusive partnership with China’s premier search provider Baidu to bring a mobile web browser to customers in the Middle East and Africa.

The partnership marks the first time Baidu has signed such an agreement with a global operator and Orange voiced its hope that the partnership will help drive mobile data adoption in emerging markets. Orange said that the forthcoming browser is much faster and more data efficient compared to other browsers, and will reduce the amount of data consumed by 30 to 90 per cent depending on the types of services and files accessed.

The operator also explained that mobile internet usage is increasing rapidly in Africa, where it is currently deploying 3G networks and making more low-cost smartphones available. The firm has a mobile customer base in AMEA of nearly 80 million customers, and said that customers have been steadily moving from basic feature phones towards low-cost Android smartphones.

The browser offers a customisable but simple interface for customers in the region, enabling them to access web-based apps and internet services specifically developed for Baidu and Orange, as well as services such as Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter.

Orange and Baidu have already developed an Arabic and English version of the browser which is being launched for Mobinil customers today and both companies are now working to launch French versions of the browser for countries in the region.

“The telecoms sector in Africa over the next five years will be one of the most dynamic industries in the world,” said Élie Girard, senior executive VP for group strategy and development at a meeting in London last week.

He added that with an overall market value of $100bn, according to the operator’s research, Africa’s telecoms market is currently the smallest of all the continents in the world. However, its compound annual growth rate of 6.3 per cent surpasses any other, with Latin America’s standing at 5.2 per cent and Asia Pacific’s at 5.0 per cent, which means there is a lot of space to grow.

Girard also reiterated the operator’s pledge to become the number one or number two operator in all of the markets it operates in across the region, adding that it would be difficult in the long term to turn a profit if it remains the number three or number four operator in most markets.

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