Baidu and Orange sideline Google in Africa
Carrier and Chinese search giant create mobile browser which will be preloaded across the Orange footprint in Africa/Middle East
Published: 15 January, 2013
This is the kind of deal to strike fear into Google's heart - its Chinese arch-rival partnering with a major operator to put a non-Google browser at the heart of the Android experience in fast growing markets. Baidu, which already overshadows Google in China and has released its own mobile operating system, has announced a deal with Orange (exclusive for the first year) to create an enhanced browser for Android handsets, to be pushed out in the carrier's extensive territories in Africa and the Middle East.
This could be the kind of breakthrough Baidu has been seeking to spearhead the expansion of its mobile web services, notably its search engine, beyond its home market. Like Opera, the main provider of mobile browsers embedded in emerging market handsets, Baidu knows that creating a distinctive platform for a cellco's own services is a key way to gain market reach in emerging economies - where operator branded devices and platforms are more common. In turn, this will help such software houses to compete with Google by preventing it becoming the default user experience throughout the Android ecosystem.
This is Baidu's first global operator agreement. The new browser is already available in Arabic and English, and a French version is in development. Importantly, it will be pre-installed in many devices, as well as being available to download. It will be pushed out to Android devices across Orange's African footprint through this year.
Orange says it is seeing significant increase in demand for smartphones, especially Android ones, in the MEA region - in Egypt, for instance, Android device sales doubled in the second half of 2012 on Orange networks. The first operator to launch the platform is Mobinil, Orange's unit in Egypt.
The French telco says the new browser promises a more affordable and a richer browsing experience for customers in this area. Like other mobile browsers with heavy presence in emerging markets, such as Opera Mini and Nokia's Series 40 offering, this software uses enhanced data compression capabilities (30% to 90% compression), to ease the strain on lower-end network connections and devices.
The user interface claims to be simple but "highly customizable", with one-click access to many key applications such as Facebook, and also to services which will be exclusive to Orange/Baidu. Baidu's own services will be on the homescreen. Marc Rennard, senior EVP for Orange activities across Africa and the Middle East, said at the launch event in London: "We do not consider the OTT players the enemy, they are the market."
Orange has an MEA mobile base of almost 80m customers. "The telecoms sector in Africa over the next five years will be one of the most dynamic industries in the world," said Élie Girard, senior EVP for group strategy and development at Orange, valuing the region at $100bn with the highest growth rate in the world. The carrier aims to double revenues from its emerging market footprint - mainly in MEA - from €3.4bn in 2009 to €7bn by 2015.