The Digital Hub for Africa by Orange is building the continent’s future

For five years, Orange has been building a centralised shared platform to disseminate content and services without going via the internet. A Pan-African offering that will soon be accessible in around twenty countries.

Thanks to this API, customers can access a service in a few seconds, subscribe to it directly, and pay with their Orange communication credits.

The number of smartphones is set to increase considerably in Africa. At least that is the opinion of Deloitte, who estimate in a study published in April 2018 that the continent will be home to 660 million smartphone owners in 2020, which is twice as many as in 2016. But for now, the traditional “feature phone” remains dominant. Its market share could even have gone from 55.4 % in 2016 to 61 % in 2017, whereas that of smartphones could have reduced from 44.6 % to 39 %, according to firm IDC. The expansion of markets such as those of Ethiopia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where up until now market penetration of the mobile phone remained low, explains these figures: new users favouring cheap telephones.

Africa, a laboratory for telecoms

However, as stressed by Deloitte, Africa remains more than ever a laboratory for the telecoms world and even a model in some sectors, in particular in terms of digital financial transactions. With a strong presence on the continent, Orange never stops innovating, thus actively participating in the digital transformation of Africa.

In this region, developers, startups, content providers, and mobile service distributors in general must indeed adapt to a market that is still underequipped in smartphones and where internet access is far from being widespread, in particular in rural settings.

To overcome these constraints, for six years now Orange has been developing a “Digital Hub”: “It is a centralised shared platform that today offers Orange partners a unique, secure, and simplified access enabling them to connect to the entire set of technical platforms of Orange subsidiaries in the MEA area [Middle East Africa], made up of around twenty countries, the majority of which are African. They will thus be able to design, develop, and distribute their VAS (Value Added Services) ad hoc services of all kinds, even without internet or via a basic mobile telephone” explains Adama Dieye, Open Ecosystem Services Manager at the Orange Technocentre of Abidjan. This here is “the only Pan-African offering of this type”, he specifies.

A Hub for monetizing services without internet

Orange’s approximate one hundred partners and content providers – multinationals (Google…), regional players (Digital Virgo, TPAY, Immobile, etc.), or startups – thus have access to a scalable, high-performing hub that is adapted to market requirements so as to develop, distribute and, most importantly, monetize their services.

To this effect, Orange has designed a suite of API (Application Programming Interface) offerings specifically for all partners or mobile service providers of the Africa-Middle-East region, covering basic needs, which are: to communicate (SMS API), distribute (#303# My Store), and invoice (Direct Carrier Billing MEA and Orange Money Web Payment). “This catalogue of API offers is available and sold online in self-service mode, and is usable through information and telecommunications protocols that are very simple to use”, specifies Adama Dieye.

In order to communicate, partners (providers, startups, or even simple developers) who do not have a bank account (roughly 80 % of the population) can buy SMS volumes online via their Orange communication credits thanks to the SMS API. Likewise, to monetize their products, they can use the payment APIs that are Direct Carrier Billing (Pay With Orange) and Orange Money.

The first provides the possibility to invoice Orange clients at the price of the content bought directly from their top-up (communication credits). The second meets the needs of partners who sell goods and services online at higher prices. It provides a trusted solution for Orange Money certified merchants that is easy to incorporate in a website thanks to a few lines of code.

As for the dissemination of their content, Orange’s partners and providers can reference their services via #303# My Store, a shared USSD portal based on the USSD API. Little-known in Europe, USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) technology has the particularity of being able to replace mobile internet access using the GSM network, thus reaching out to all users, even those with traditional mobile telephones.

A service that will soon be available in around twenty countries

Orange’s USSD APIs really add value, especially in terms of customer experience, with a unique Pan-African portal and a simplified thematic search function, notes Adama Dieye, who adds that #303# My Store, which is currently available in six countries (Cameroon, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Conakry, Mali, and Senegal), will soon also be present on the other markets where Orange is established.

Used until now by operators to enable their customers to perform basic operations (check balance, top-up communication credits, etc.), USSD access has now been widened and made easier thanks to standardisation and large-scale commercialisation, as undertaken by Orange with the #303# My Store API. Ultimately, there will be around twenty countries, amounting to 100 million customers, who will have access to this B2B2C platform. Thanks to this API, customers can access a service in a few seconds, subscribe to it directly, and pay with their Orange communication credits.

In order to support the development of e-commerce in Africa, Orange has managed to find solutions that are adapted to the markets by making a multitude of products and services accessible from any telephone.

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