February 05, 2013

Microsoft Reaches Out to Growing Africa Tech Market via '4Afrika Initiative'


Africa is one of the most promising regions for technology expansion -- and Microsoft will be actively reaching out to that increasing market under a diverse initiative.

Up to a million small businesses in Africa will be able to get online over the next three years through the new $75 million program just announced by Microsoft.

The company will also provide tech training for up to 200,000 potential technology users – as Microsoft promotes app development and networking. The company will also sponsor an AppFactory to encourage new apps for the Windows Store in the region.

The region will also be a key market for computers, smartphones and other devices – aided by a discount offering. The company will offer with Huawei a low-cost smartphone: the Huawei 4Afrika. It will use the use the Windows Phone operating system. It will sell for about $150. The phone is targeted to students, developers and others. It will soon be offered in Angola, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa.

In addition, Microsoft will play a key role in the wireless broadband network in Kenya’s Rift Valley. It will use spectrum and solar power to bring Internet connections to rural parts of Africa.

There is definite growth projected in the tech sector in Africa. Many residents will be getting mobile phone connections and Internet access. Smartphones represent some 10 percent of the phones now in use in the region. Also, currently some 10 percent of Africa's population, which is more than 1 billion, has Internet access. That amount will likely jump to 400 million by 2015, according to data from Google, cited by Newsday.

“A lot of this is reminiscent of the activities that Microsoft’s arch-rival Google already has underway in Africa,” Matthew Reed, an analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, said in a recent statement. “Low-cost smartphones based on Google’s Android OS – such as the Huawei Ideos – have proved very popular in African markets, notably Kenya. Google is involved in network projects in Africa, such as the Wazi WiFi service, again in Kenya. Google has a project to help small businesses in Africa to get online. Google has also worked hard to make its core search service available in African languages, and to encourage the creation of local content for YouTube.”

The initiatives by the two companies make sound business sense to spread Internet use in the region. “Africa offers one of the last big growth opportunities for access to the Internet and all the products and services that are associated with that: devices; software; applications; content and advertising,” Reed added.

In addition, Africa recently has seen improved connectivity, as well as 3G and 4G networks getting launched in the region.



Image via Microsoft

“Microsoft and Google will be hoping that their websites, software and services are the ones that Africa’s new Internet users come to regard as their default choice,” Reed said.

As part of the initiative, Microsoft will open an Afrika Academy to train college graduates, government officials and Microsoft partners in tech and business skills, according to The Seattle Times.

The 4Afrika Initiative builds on existing Microsoft efforts in Africa. The company now has over 10,000 partners in Africa.

“By 2016, the 4Afrika Initiative plans to help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth, bring 1 million African small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) online, upskill 100,000 members of Africa’s existing workforce, and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop employability skills, 75 percent of whom Microsoft will help place in jobs,” the company said in a recent statement.

As part of the initiative, the company will also focus on the specific segment of women in North Africa. They will be given IT skills training, leadership skills, programs to boost self-confidence and interviewing skills, and be offered mentorship.

“We want to empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers, and business and civic leaders to turn great ideas into a reality that can help their community, their country, the continent and beyond,” Fernando de Sousa, general manager, of Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative, added in the statement. “The 4Afrika Initiative is built on the dual beliefs that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world.”

“We believe there has never been a better time to invest in Africa and that access to technology — particularly cloud services and smart devices — can and will serve as a great accelerator for African competitiveness,” Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International, continued in the company statement. “The launches of Windows 8 and many other new products in the coming months represent a new era for Microsoft, which we believe will redefine the technology industry globally. These additional investments under the 4Afrika banner will help define our company’s new era in Africa.” 




Edited by Rachel Ramsey



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