Orange rides Africa acquisitions spree with Sustainability initiatives

09 Aug 2016, 12:00 am
Martins Hile


Effective from November 2016, the pilot phase of the Orange Rural Electrification Programme will commence in Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal and Cameroon.

Orange Money - A financial inclusion product

Orange has recently been on an Africa acquisition spree with the purchase of Bharti Airtel's operations in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone; Cellcom Telecommunications, the second largest mobile operator in Liberia; and Tigo DRC, the fourth largest mobile operator in the Democratic Republic of Congo; among others.
The string of acquisitions and the roll-out of various products and services on the continent show the French telecom giant's strategic priority to strengthen its positions in Africa. The company's combined revenue grew 0.3 percent to €20.079 billion in the first half of 2016, while its revenue in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) increased by 3.3 per cent to €2.52 billion in the same period, compared with the first half of 2015. The company is currently in over 20 African countries with 108.5 million subscribers in Africa and the Middle East as of June 30, 2016.

Speaking at its 4th annual strategy and activity update session with the media and analysts in London last month, Ramon Fernandez, Deputy CEO and Chief Finance and Strategy Officer; Bruno Mettling, CEO of Orange Middle East and Africa (MEA); and Jean-Marc Vignolles, Chief Operating Officer for Orange MEA; outlined the company’s vision and identified a number of new sectors in which Orange can play a key role in delivering digital transformation in the region.

“The Middle East and Africa remains a key growth contributor for Orange. Today, we are present in 21 countries in the zone, with more than one in 10 Africans being Orange customers,” said Mettling.

Financial inclusion

The telecom company offers a range of mobile money services, one of which is Orange Money – a financial inclusion service. Launched in 2008, Orange Money had 19 million customers in Africa and the Middle East as of June 30, 2016.

Orange Money offers mobile financial services that can be carried out remotely and securely using the mobile phone. In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, more than 80 per cent of population have a mobile phone; meanwhile, less than 24 per cent of the people have a bank account.

Opening an Orange Money account is free for Orange mobile customers. Deposits or electronic money transfers are made via the mobile phone to any other Orange Money customer in the same country. In some countries, international transfers are also possible. Customers are able to pay bills remotely, buy phone credit, make savings, and purchase insurance as well as micro-credit solutions. These services are offered in partnership with banks and insurance companies.

The French telecom company said for the first time, transactions on Orange Money have exceeded €1 billion. Revenue from Orange Money in Orange's emerging markets in the Middle East and Africa also grew by 51 per cent in the first half of the year, even as subscribers to the mobile money service jumped by 36 per cent in the same period, compared with a similar period in 2015.

Affordable smartphones

Orange launched the Orange Rise 31, an affordable Android-based smartphone in February 2016 in 10 countries in the MEA region. The smartphone comes with data bundle.

Last month, the telecom company launched the Orange Rise 51, which has Google's latest operating system, the Android 7.0 (Nougat). The Orange Rise 31 has the Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) OS. Some of the specifications of the latest smartphone include an 8 GB internal memory, 1 GB RAM and 4-inch display LCD touchscreen. It also has a quad-core processor, high-definition (HD) voice, 5 megapixels rear camera and 2 megapixels front camera. The 4G smartphone is also bundled with Orange applications and popular Google services such as YouTube and Google Play.

The telecom company said the Orange Rise 51 will be introduced first in Cote d'Ivoire after the summer school holidays. In Orange's half-year 2016 result, the company stated that mobile data services and Orange Money contributed to pushing its revenue growth in the Africa and the Middle East.

Rural Electrification Programme

Effective from November 2016, the pilot phase of the Orange Rural Electrification Programme will commence in Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal and Cameroon.

In the six-month pilot phase, Orange will provide solar kits or green mini-grids (GMGs) to rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa that do not have access to grid electricity. The GMGs, which will be wholly-subsidised by Orange, will harness the power of the sun to generate electricity for the communities.

Ninety per cent of the rural population in SSA are excluded from access to electricity. The African Development Bank (AfDB) supports the use of green mini-grids as a key intervention to solving Africa's energy access challenge. Orange's Rural Electrification Programme provides an affordable solution to make electricity available for individuals and communities in the region. Individuals who purchase the solar kits will make payment using Orange Money.    

Smart electricity metering

In September, Orange will begin the installation of 100 smart metres across residential premises in Tunisia. The six-month pilot smart metering programme will be launched in partnership with STEG (The Tunisian Company of Electricity and Gas). The French telecom giant said the programme is the precursor to the installation of four million smart electricity metres to be rolled out commercially across the country.

Orange plans to build a smart metering infrastructure that connects and manages millions of smart metres to help utility companies reduce high Aggregate Technical, Commercial and Collection (ATC&C) losses and improve system reliability in the sector.

“We are investing for the long term and plan to continue playing a major role in the digital transformation of the region, from providing infrastructure and access to communications services through to developing new models that will help the region grow,” Mettling said at the interactive session in London.

Entrepreneur Club for startups in Africa

As a leading provider of global IT and telecommunication services to multinational companies under the brand Orange Business Services, Orange recently launched the Entrepreneur Club as an online platform that provides information and a collection of services for startups in Africa and the Middle East.

The Entrepreneur Club provides entrepreneurs with support in various areas including hosting, coaching, financing and in addressing a number of challenges that startups in MEA face.

Digital transformation and customer experience

As part of its plans to enhance customer experience, Orange has launched NFC Coins to enable merchants provide change to Orange customers in the form of airtime.

The service was first launched last month in Mali, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. Once an Orange customer sticks an NFC tag on their mobile phone, the merchant returns change to the customer in the form of airtime credit, instantly.

By 'digitising' coins, the U.S.-based Numismatic Financial Corporation (NFC) provides an easy, quick and secure way to get change from any merchant. It is a contactless solution Orange has adopted for topping up its customers with airtime without disclosing the phone number, and Orange says it will solve the issue of a lack of change and coins in Africa.  

Digitising for efficiency

Orange has developed NOMAD, a new solution for on-the-spot authentication and activation of new customers or services. The solution is accessible via USSD, the mobile phone communication technology for sending text between a mobile phone and an application programme in the network, or through an Android app on a smartphone, tablet or web interface. NOMAD is a fast and reliable service that enables Orange sales agents to authenticate and activate new accounts or services.

The company said lengthy processes for customer authentication or service activation are a barrier for Orange sales agents in acquiring new customers or activating new accounts or services efficiently. With NOMAD, Orange sales representatives can perform a range of transactions including identification of customers purchasing prepaid voice or data services, Orange Money subscriptions and SIM Swap services, amongst others.

Orange has over 700,000 active retailers and kiosks across the MEA region. The company says this new solution enables it to digitise its entire distribution channels. NOMAD has since been rolled out in 14 countries in the region.

Orange app store

The newly-launched Orange USSD-based app store, #303# My Store, is designed to enable service providers to deliver mobile services to any type of phone. Orange subscribers and customers can access the app store to find different contents provided by various partners.

The app store will be launched in Cameroon and Egypt in August 2016, with the same #303# unique code, followed by a roll-out to the rest of the countries where Orange has operations across the MEA region.

App publishers on the app store will provide services to Orange's customers regardless of the type of device owned by the customers.

Great-value mobile roaming

As Orange expands its operations in Africa, the company has launched the Orange Travel Pass as a value-added service for travellers within the MEA region and to some European destinations.

With Orange Travel Pass, travellers can stay connected with family and associates while roaming in countries with Orange networks. The service provides travellers with voice call minutes, SMS and data bundles.

So far, the mobile roaming service has been launched for Orange subscribers in four countries as the company plans a gradual roll-out to 10 countries by the end of the year.

Martins Hile is Executive Editor, Financial Nigeria