Orange and Google partner for SMS-based services in Africa

2 min read Networks & Network Services
Orange and Google have signed a partnership that aims to facilitate access to Google’s innovative services across Africa by leveraging Orange’s networks. This will enable Orange’s mobile customers to stay in touch with their Google services and Google users to extend their network by using SMS-based services.

The “Gmail SMS Chat” service, which will eventually be launched across Orange’s footprint in Africa and the Middle East, is already available in Senegal, Uganda and Kenya. It will be launched in four additional countries - Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea Conakry and Niger - in the coming months, and will be launched as a trial in Egypt (Mobinil). Orange and Google are now looking to extend this partnership to include other services.

“Gmail SMS Chat” enables Gmail users and Orange’s mobile customers to extend their community of friends using chat in a region where mobile access is widespread but where PC access remains limited.

Orange and Google today announced a strategic partnership that will leverage Orange’s SMS platform to bring Google’s services to African customers. This agreement marks an important step forward that will facilitate access to the growing mobile internet market in Africa. Indeed, at the end of 2010, only 1.4% of the population in Africa and Middle East had access to broadband services, compared to 62.5% for mobile services.

With a total customer base of around 60 million customers across the continent, Orange is one of the most powerful mobile operators in Africa and the Middle East today. Innovations such as Orange Money have already demonstrated that mobile technology can improve the lives of African customers and help businesses grow.

Through the development of SMS-based services that operate on all mobile networks (including GSM), Orange and Google will extend the reach of a wide range of internet services that were previously limited to smartphone and broadband users (through 3G, CDMA or WiMax networks) to all Orange mobile customers.

Through Google SMS, African mobile customers stand to benefit from a wide range of Google services via SMS. For example, by using “Gmail SMS Chat”, Gmail users and Orange mobile customers can significantly extend their chat community through real-time chat by SMS. “Gmail SMS Chat” gives Gmail users a quota of free SMS they can send to any Orange customer. As this quota is used, an additional five SMS messages are added each time an Orange customer replies to the initial SMS.

Through this service, Gmail users can add Orange mobile customers (even if they do not have a Gmail account) to their address books and initiate chat sessions with them. For Orange customers, the service is free of charge and requires no subscription; chat messages sent from their mobile phones are billed at normal SMS rates.

Orange and Google already launched this service in Senegal in July 2010 where it has been a huge success. Indeed uptake exceeded expectations with nearly 700,000 unique users and four million messages sent by SMS in the first six months.

The service, which is also already live in Uganda and Kenya, will be launched in the coming months, with the support of the Group’s Technocenter in Abidjan for Orange customers in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea Conakry and Niger. A test phase will also be launched for Mobinil customers in Egypt. The service will ultimately be rolled-out across Orange’s entire African footprint.

The services proposed under Google SMS are only the first stage of this partnership. Orange and Google are now exploring ways of bringing other Google services to the whole Orange customer base.

Commenting on the partnership, Xavier Perret, VP Strategic Partnerships said: “By bringing the full potential of the mobile internet to our customers in Africa, this strategic partnership is a step forward in Orange’s “Digital Coach” strategy. The Group’s capacity to combine its knowhow on service infrastructure with innovation, and by adapting its offers to local needs, will enable it to provide mobile customers across Africa with access to internet-based services in the best possible conditions. We are delighted to work with a major brand like Google and we know that by innovating together we can really change the role mobile technology plays in our customers’ lives”.