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Orange: The future’s bright, the future’s… Africa

As European mobile markets reach saturation point, operators are looking to emerging economies to increase revenues. Monty Munford finds out what Orange is doing in Africa.


The CEO of Orange, Stéphane Richard is a man who speaks his mind and doesn’t mind how he speaks.

As former French Minister for the Economy, Industry and Employment, recipient of the prestigious Legion of Honour and one-time adviser to a certain Dominique Strauss-Khan, the 49-year-old Richard knows how to get his audience’s attention.

At a reporters’ lunch during the French Open tennis at Roland-Garros he described eventual winner Rafael Nadal as ‘vulgar’ and was equally forthright when describing recent meetings with Presidents Obama and Sarkozy.

Lost in translation maybe, but while Richard made these remarks with a twinkle in his eye, his subsequent comment that he will visit every African country where Orange does business ‘within two years’ was delivered with more serious intent.

It is one thing to release (in partnership with IBM and the French Tennis Federation) sophisticated iPhone and iPad apps for the French Open at Roland-Garros, quite another to address the African market and the challenges it represents.

Orange has big plans for Africa and Richard knows as well as anybody that the operator needs to look beyond the saturated European market to drive business.

Orange is currently present in 17 African territories that range from West African French-speaking countries such as Tunisia, Senegal and Morocco to Uganda and Kenya in East Africa.

Richard has already visited several African countries and recent announcements from the company underscore a commitment to the continent that other non-African operators are struggling to emulate. Rather like previous land and oil rushes, the mobile rush in Africa is most definitely on.

Rather like India where fixed-line broadband internet access is unlikely to ever reach critical mass, ever-increasing mobile penetration in Africa means there is an opportunity to not only improve lives, but also make a great deal of money.

Consequently, Orange is looking to the two sectors that affect African life more than any other; money and health.

Let’s start with the money… While mobile banking is only now beginning to be adopted in the West, the dearth of banks in Africa means mobile banking initiatives such as the M-Pesa platform (powered by Vodafone) in Kenya have been wildly successful.

Orange’s mobile banking function called, somewhat unsurprisingly, Orange Money is making similar progress. The company claims that almost 10 per cent of its mobile customer base in Africa have now opened an Orange Money account; a figure that doubled from one million customers at the end of 2010 to two million at the end of last month.

Subscribers to the service can open a free account from their mobile phone and can deposit/withdraw money from their account up to €150 (£134). Orange Money is not only used by individual customers, but also by small businesses that need to pay wages and pay bills; a vital boost to the local economy.

Currently available in Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Madagascar and Kenya, the company plans to roll the service out across more territories this year.

But what of mobile health? US satirist Dorothy Parker once said that “money cannot buy health”, a fact that many Africans have to face every day, so Orange’s partnership with mPedigree that enables Africans to establish the authenticity of their drugs is to be welcomed.

Piloting in Kenya and Cameroon, the initiative prints a unique verification code that is hidden behind a scratchable surface layer on every packet or bottle of medicine. Patients then send this code by SMS to verify that medicine’s authenticity. The service only takes seconds and, crucially, is free to the customer.

Such financial and health strategies are not altruistic in themselves. They may give Orange’s African customers vital services, but they also provide PR value and a beachhead to roll out the usual cash cows of voice, text and increasingly the mobile web.

It means that when CEO Richard finally completes his two-year tour of Orange African countries, many lives will not only have been improved, and in some cases, saved by his company’s commitment to Africa, but Orange’s business will also have benefited.

Rather like his earlier comments about French Open winner Rafael Nadal, Orange CEO Stéphane Richard understands the power of words as well as actions. So perhaps we should refer back to Dorothy Parker’s quote that ‘money cannot buy health’.

Parker also added that while that statement was true she would also ‘settle for a diamond-studded wheelchair’. There is likely to be a similar compensation for Orange in future revenues from its African territories.

Filed in: Technology News

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