Orange, Google partner to bring SMS to Africa and Middle East

Orange (Paris, France) and Google (Mountain View, Calif., U.S.A.) on Wednesday announced a partnership that will use Orange’s Short Message Service (SMS) platform to bring Google’s services to African and Middle Eastern customers.

According to Orange, 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. Orange has a total customer base of around 60 million customers across Africa.

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

Through Google SMS, African mobile customers will have access to a range of Google services, such as Gmail. By using “Gmail SMS Chat”, Gmail users and Orange mobile customers can extend their chat community through real-time chat by SMS, said Orange.

“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, says Orange. 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.

According to Orange, the two companies already launched this service in Senegal in July 2010 where it saw success, 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.

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