PARIS/BEIJING: Baidu, China's biggest online search engine, and France Telecom have struck a partnership deal that could greatly expand mobile web use in Africa.
The agreement will see France Telecom pre-install Baidu's mobile browser on Android phones for its customers in Africa and the Middle East. The company said demand for such devices in the region had doubled in the second half of 2012.
More precisely, France Telecom, whose Orange mobile network is the third largest operator on the continent, with some 80m customers, is to focus on Togo, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Gabon.
Africa is set to be the most dynamic telecoms region in the world in the next few years, as demand for internet access via smartphones increases in markets where fixed line penetration has historically been low.
France Telecom anticipates it will enable many customers to gain their first access to the internet through their phones, rather than through desktop or laptop PCs that use fixed-line connections.
Mobile penetration rates across Africa vary hugely, from 17% per cent in the Democratic Republic of Congo to 102% in Tunisia. Consequently, there is potential customer growth in many markets.
The move marks a major step overseas for Baidu, which said in a statement that it sees the Middle East and north Africa region as "particularly important" and this deal as of "particular significance".
The new pre-installed browser is specifically designed to compress data and give users easy bookmarks to Web services like Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter.
Xavier Perret, Orange VP of strategic partnerships and business development, said that the agreement was more about user experience than revenue.
"This partnership it is a pragmatic one; we develop customer stickiness and usage," he added. "For Baidu it is a way to get more knowledge of the market and enlarge their audience."
Data sourced from FT/AllThingsD/Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff