In a move to cash in on the rapidly increasing demand for mobile internet across Africa and the Middle East, Baidu and Orange have joined forces in an exclusive deal that will see the two companies launch a co-branded version of Baidu’s mobile browser.
Launched yesterday for customers of Orange’s Egyptian MobiNil network, the aim is to roll out localised versions of the browser across each of the 19 countries in which Orange currently operates in the region.
‘El Browzer’, as it’s dubbed, will be available for download for existing Orange customers using Android devices, while shipments of Android handsets later in the year will come with the app pre-installed.
France Telecom, owner of Orange, says it’s seeing very rapid uptake of lower-priced Android smartphones amongst its nearly 80 million large mobile customer base in the region. In fact, the telecommunications operator states in the press release that it has seen demand for Android devices double in the second half of 2012.
Whereas price and poor 3G infrastructure have previously impeded prolific smartphone adoption across these markets, such barriers to entry are quickly eroding as smartphones become more affordable and 3G networks improve.
This partnership will further help in bringing affordable data plans to consumers in Africa and the Middle East. Baidu’s mobile browser is reportedly significantly more data efficient compared to other mobile browsers, reducing the amount of data consumed by up to 90% in some instances.
Baidu’s first real international breakthrough?
It’s no secret that Baidu’s internationalisation strategy, apart from sporadic moves in Japan, is entirely targeted at emerging markets. In 2011, the Chinese search behemoth launched services in Egypt and Thailand, followed by a move in the spring of last year in which Baidu announced the opening of an office in Brazil to support its expansion plans in South America.
However, while Baidu’s success beyond its domestic borders has so far been fairly limited, the partnership with an already well-established player like Orange could potentially pave the way for its first real international breakthrough. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden notes that “Chinese companies have long eyed developing markets like Africa as places for expansion beyond their home territory. It’s a strategy that has worked to great effect for companies like Huawei and ZTE with network equipment, with deals for cost-competitive kits underpinned with well-termed vendor finance agreements with the carriers to seal the deal.”
Certainly, this marks an important step in Baidu’s aspirations to become a globally recognised brand – especially during a time where concerns from various sides have been raised over increased domestic search competition from Qihoo, as well as a general lack of mobile visibility.
Tapping into ‘underserved’ potential
Surely, Baidu’s choice to focus on emerging markets outside of China makes perfect sense when you think about the success it has achieved in its home country. Hu Yong, General Manager of Baidu’s International Business Unit, said following the announcement of the co-branded Orange-Baidu browser:
Baidu’s success has been built on developing technologies, products and services appropriate for China, the world’s largest emerging market. We’re now bringing that experience to bear in other markets now enjoying rapid growth.
The new browser is currently available in Arabic and English, while a French version is in the makings. And localising for the Arabic-speaking population throughout the region could especially prove a wise move. Recent research on the size and economic potential of languages online shows that Arabic has surpassed French, Russian and German in total online population, in addition to demonstrating the fastest growth of online spending potential between 2011 and 2012. However, Vijayalaxmi Hegde of Common Sense Advisory notes that, despite this apparent potential, the Arabic-speaking world continues to be heavily neglected by global organisations: “Arabic is also the most underserved language on top global websites around the world. Languages are considered to be “underserved” when they appear less frequently – with less available content – than either the size or economic potential the online audience warrants.”
In this light, Baidu’s efforts to make strides in the Middle East and Africa make even greater sense and could be a significant step for the search engine in its plans for international expansion.
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