Orange: Fast racking digitalisation in the MEA region
We spoke to Arnauld Blondet, innovation director for AMEA at Orange Group, to find out how Orange is using cutting edge connectivity to enable a whole range of additional services for its customers in the region
What do you see as the key opportunities for Orange in the Middle East and Africa region?
Orange is present in 18 countries in the Middle East and Africa and one in ten Africans are Orange customers. There are still a lot of opportunities for growth in the MEA region and this is a key ambition of our Engage 2025 strategy. We see four key pillars of growth in the Middle East and Africa region: mobile money, b2b services, internet and data.
We want to be more than an operator for our customers. We place customers at the heart of what we do and we are most and foremost focussed on their needs. When you look at Africa, many customers pay more to charge their phone than using the phone itself. Moreover, the smartphones that we have in Europe are far too expensive for the population in Africa and the Middle East. At Orange, we want to democratise access to digital solutions and essential services such as healthcare, energy etc. and make these accessible to all and not only those who can afford it. Therefore, we have put in place some smart energy solutions that help our customers have an easier and cheaper access to energy and spend less money charging their phone. We have also launched feature phones, such as the Sanza XL 4G, which can be bought for around 28 dollars and provides access to over two hundred essential applications, including: WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook and the Google Assistant. Our priority is to go deeper in that multi-service direction to provide solutions for people who still can’t afford the great value of mobile, smartphone, of digital solution. We want to be part of the digital transformation that we see in Africa currently.
What role will the provision of financial services and mobile money offerings play in changing people’s daily lives?
Access to a traditional bank account remains difficult for a large part of the African population, while mobile phones are, on the other hand, more widely used. Orange has been interested in mobile financial services for many years and we launched over ten years ago a Mobile Money service across most of our MEA markets. It is a basic but very useful system for many of our customers in the region where consumers just need a basic phone and connectivity to send money to anyone who has an Orange account. We rely on 600,000 small shops so that people can recover cash from their phone. We have expanded this service dramatically and recently opened this service in Morocco. As part of this service, we also offer microloans to Orange Money customers with a value of less than 100 euros for less than 2 months. This service has great success in the region as it enables millions of people to manage their money, send money to their family, pay for bills and receiving salary easily and securely via a mobile phone, when they would have been otherwise excluded from a formal financial system.
Is it too soon to be talking about 5G in Africa?
Whilst 5G is a key priority for the Group in Europe, we do not have plans for a rollout of 5G in our MEA markets at the moment as the market is not ready for it. We still see too many barriers to have success in 5G in Africa today. We need the states to drive us the path, we need new spectrum, capabilities as well as more affordable 5G devices. Instead, we are concentrating on 4G, which is still quite new in Africa. As a recent GSMA mobile economy report stated, only 10% of sub-Saharan Africa connections are via 4G in 2019 which means the majority of the population is connecting to the internet via 2G and 3G or has no internet access at all. We launched some operations in 4G only last year – 4G is still a beginning for us in terms of acceleration of data and we still have lot of investment to do in 4G. Of course, we do not want Africa to be left alone, we want to deploy 5G there eventually, but there is no rush. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done beforehand.
What role will IoT play in transforming the region’s enterprise sector?
We are considering IoT as a great enabler to drive new services and usages. We have developed solutions for Energy, agriculture, banking… We see a great interest in our solutions for productivity and efficiency solutions in some key historic enterprise sectors in Africa. We still want to do more, partnering also with key players in each sector.
What are your predictions for the region over the next 12 months?
For innovation in Africa, we are mainly seeing the massive growth in digital uptake across African markets with more demand for more digital and more services with platform-based services and we think this is a key shift that we are preparing step by step, country by country. Digital transformation is really happening – from getting energy through digital, content services through digital, getting life service and it can be, state governmental services, global services, e-commerce, e-ship, e-store services... The great news is that customers need and want more and there is both value and usage globally, but also locally.