Orange already sells mobile service in countries across Africa, but now it plans to try its hand at selling another essential service to people on that continent: electricity. Orange has partnered with fellow French company Engie to build out power infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa and even jointly sell solar energy and small-scale electrical grid equipment directly to its mobile customers in rural areas.
The electricity business may seem an odd venture for one of the world’s biggest multinational operators, but it has every interest in ensuring Africa has access to reliable power. After all, its customers can’t make phone calls if their phones’ batteries are dead. Orange and Engie estimated that 90 percent of the rural population of sub-Sahara Africa had no access to the electricity grid, so there certainly isn’t lack of potential customers. And Orange already has the billing infrastructure in place. It plans to use its mobile cash transaction service, Orange Money, for payments.
But Orange sees another benefit to its Engie partnership as well. Engie aims to become a major player in Africa’s energy infrastructure development, and Orange hopes to tap that grid for its own network use. Just as its customers can’t make calls with charged batteries, its cell towers can’t connect those phones without a consistent power source.
And just as Engie sees Africa as a big opportunity for energy development, Orange sees its vast potential as a telecom market. AfricaCom took place in Cape Town last month, a big event highlighting Africa’s big ambitions to become a mobile telecommunications hotbed rivaling Europe.