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February 5, 2013 at 7:19 AM

Microsoft making big push in Africa

Microsoft is making a big push in Africa, announcing this week a plan to spend an additional $75 million over the next three years over what it’s currently investing there, to grow the market there.

Among the first moves in this plan is a partnership between Microsoft and Chinese phone manufacturer Huawei to introduce a Windows Phone specifically designed for the Africa market. Called Huawei 4Afrika, it’s a Windows Phone 8 device that will come preloaded with apps designed for use in Africa and is targeted toward university students, developers and first-time smartphone users, according to a Microsoft news release. The phone will be available later this month in Angola, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa.

Why the push?

“When we look at the world, many see China or the BRIC countries as the next big opportunity for growth. At Microsoft, we view the African continent as a game-changer in the global economy,” Ali Faramawy, CVP for Microsoft Middle East and Africa, said in a blog post.

The partnership with Huawei is intended to help drive adoption of Windows Phone in a continent where smartphones currently account for only 10 percent of total phones in the market, according Faramawy’s post.

Other elements of the plan, which Microsoft is calling the 4Afrika Initiative, include a partnership with the Kenyan government and a Kenyan Internet service provider to deliver low-cost, high-speed wireless broadband access. According to Microsoft:

The deployment is called “Mawingu,” which is Kiswahili for cloud. It is the first deployment of solar-powered base stations working together with TV white spaces, a technology partially developed by Microsoft Research, to deliver high-speed Internet access to areas currently lacking even basic electricity. Microsoft hopes to implement similar pilots in East and Southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of TV white space technology.

Microsoft’s goals for the initiative over the next three years include placing “tens of millions” of smart devices in the hands of African youths, bringing a million African small and medium-sized businesses online, and helping provide skills training.

There will also be an “online hub” for small and medium-sized businesses through which such businesses can gain access to free products and services from Microsoft and other partners.

Microsoft has also established what it calls the Afrika Academy, designed to help recent higher-education graduates, government leaders and those in the Microsoft partner community develop technical and business skills.

The initiative doesn’t mark a “sudden, new idea about Africa” for Microsoft, which has had a presence in the continent for about 20 years, said Fernando de Sousa, general manager of Microsoft Africa Initiatives, speaking by phone from Cairo. “It’s been a logical evolution of our own growth in in the African continent combined with the significant changes in Africa in the last few years.”

There’s been significant democratization in certain countries and more openness by some governments to engaging in the global marketplace and in partnerships with companies such as Microsoft, he said.

“For Microsoft, this is a particularly great opportunity,” he said.



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