Orange Middle East and Africa (MEA) is using virtualization and cloud to power the region's digital transformation beyond traditional telecommunications services.
Late last week, the operator unveiled a slew of services, initially available in select countries, including Orange Money, Orange-branded smartphones, bundled roaming services, a rural electrification program that taps solar power, smart metering, digital coins, a real-time customer authentication and activation system and an app store.
The service provider is present in 21 countries within the area and more than one in ten Africans are Orange customers, Bruno Mettling, CEO of Orange MEA, says in a statement. More than 60% of individuals in sub-Saharan Africa have access to a mobile phone and the zone is home to one of the fastest-growing middle classes, according to DHL Express Sub Saharan Africa, citing World Economic Forum figures.
New IP Powers Orange MEA's New Services
(Source: Orange MEA)
However, 2 billion people globally still do not have mobile phones and 500 million individuals dwell in areas without mobile coverage, Orange
(NYSE: FTE) says. By next year, one third of the 1.2 billion residents of Africa are projected to have Internet access; most will go online via mobile phones, the operator says.
Africa presents many challenges when it comes to Internet access but these challenges are ideal for virtualization and cloud-based solutions. The continent is diverse; some countries mirror European capitals, while other areas are impoverished and disconnected, says Arnauld Blondet, vice president of Orange's Technocentre, MEA region, in an interview.
"Everything we do is virtualized. We use cloud services as much as possible, meaning that the target at the group level is to launch services wherever in the world and virtualize infrastructure... We have a data center in the region dedicated to virtualized services and a good part of what we announced [recently] is run through the data center," he says.
Cloud and virtualization were critical to Orange MEA's ventures: The technologies allow the service provider to accelerate innovation via scalable infrastructure, says Blondet. Virtualization also allows Orange to more easily customize services for each nation or region within a country, he adds. Localization is vital to success, Blondet notes, but traditional approaches were too time-consuming and costly to succeed in a vast, complex part of the world such as MEA.
Messaging alone, for example, leverages the same architecture but is highly customized to meet particular customers' requirements -- needs that go beyond basic needs such as language differences, he says. While the underlying technologies are the same, by teaming up with local partners Orange incorporates local cultural and regional preferences, says Blondet.
Orange sees its role expanding far beyond that of a traditional service provider. In many ways it's a green-field opportunity that leverages Orange's investments in virtualization, analytics and cloud to add or expand upon new offerings, Blondet says.
"Africa is missing nearly everything. It has very little infrastructure and mobile can do everything. So this, I would say, is the culmination of good technology, good innovation and good focus, and at the same time a market that needs many things and -- thanks to mobile, thanks to smartphones -- needs more and more focus on digital. This is why we consider ourselves to be a real partner of digital transformation because we see, in any sector, in any topic, people need more and more support and to do more things with us," he says.
— Alison Diana, Ambassador, The New IP Agency. Follow her on Twitter @alisoncdiana or @The_New_IP.