Baidu, the Chinese search giant, has signed an exclusive deal with France Telecom and its subsidiary Orange to co-brand and pre-load its Baidu mobile browser on Android smartphones in Africa and the Middle East. It is the first time Baidu has signed such an agreement with a global provider and extends the company to 19 countries in a move that stretches its boundaries beyond Asia and into Africa and the Middle East.
The partnership strives to drive web adoption in developing, emerging markets with a browser designed for the lower grade networks of the region. The browser offers a customizable but simple interface and uses data compression to gain better leverage of the more limited 3G networks of the region. The phones sold by France Telecom and Orange would include simple, dedicated icons for easier connection to popular Internet sites like Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter.
“Baidu’s success has been built on developing technologies, products and services appropriate for China, the world’s largest emerging market,” said Hu Yong, general manager of Baidu’s International Business Unit. “We’re now bringing that experience to bear in other markets now enjoying rapid growth. Working with Orange in the Middle East and Africa, Baidu hopes to contribute meaningfully to the region’s growth by making the mobile internet easier than ever to use.”
While most people in Africa use low grade, feature phones, there has been a shift towards low-end smartphones that provide web access but not the full range of features of more expensive smartphones popular in Europe and the US.
“The appetite for mobile internet services is very strong in Africa, for example demand for Android devices in Egypt has doubled in the second half of this year,” said Marc Rennard, senior executive vice president for Orange activities across Africa and the Middle East. “Price and access have been a barrier to entry, but partnering with innovative companies like Baidu provide unique solutions that give our customers affordable access to all the services they desire without compromising on features or ease-of-use.”
The deal connects Baidu with France-Telecom’s existing 75 million customers in Africa and the Middle East. Both companies aspire to grow that number to 300 million with sales of US$9.4 billion by 2015. Orange is the number three carrier in the region, topped by MTN and Vodafone.
The browser will be available in Arabic and English, with a French version currently under development. The browser will be localized for each market. The deal is stipulated for one year. France Telecom will begin shipping phones pre-loaded with the app later this year. Existing Android users can get a download of the app that works on all versions of Android 2.0.
Baidu first launched its mobile browser last September that sold the app through its Mobinill network.