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Bharti Airtel set to transform telecoms in Africa

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Bharti Airtel said the signing of a 10-year deal with computer giant, IBM has placed the company in a position to transform how people communicate and how communities interact in Africa.

The Indian telecom giant and IBM have announced details of a ten-year contract, under which IBM will manage the computing technology and services that power Bharti Airtel’s 16-country mobile communications network.

A statement on the websites of the two companies said “IBM will deploy technologies created by IBM Research, including the Spoken Web-a voice-enabled Internet technology that allows users to access and share information simply by talking over an existing telephone.”

“This is particularly compelling for populations with little or no literacy, visual impairments, or which lack access to PCs,” it said.

The statement quoted Mr. Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharti Airtel as saying “there are huge opportunities throughout Africa to transform how people communicate and how communities interact.

He said Bharti Airtel’s focus was to deliver on that opportunity through affordable mobile communications for everyone.

“We are delighted to extend our successful relationship with IBM in South Asia to Africa – this transformational business delivery model, which will be a first in Africa’s telecom industry, will bring enhanced efficiencies to our operations and help us deliver world-class mobile services to our customers,” he said.

Bharti Airtel recently acquired 15 of Zain Africa’s operations, including Ghana.

Whiles the company is yet to rebrand from Zain to Bharti Airtel, it has already started living up to its promise of offering affordability by giving Ghanaian customers ridiculously low call tariffs of 8Gp per minute of call to all networks.

Bharti Airtel’s low call tariff has pushed the likes of Vodafone Ghana to also offer 8Gp per minute of call under a special regime that require the customer to dial 8080 and register at the cost of 8Gp.

The company has also poached MTN Ghana’s aggressive market wizkid, George Kwadwo Andah and strategically positioned as Chief Market Officer (CMO) of Bharti Airtel, Nigeria arguably to evade restraining clause issues around George’s neck in Ghana.

Bharti Airtel first signed a management contract with IBM covering its Indian network in 2004, and it said the new agreement that covers Africa was expected to be finalized in the fourth quarter of this year.

Under the 10-year planned agreement, IBM would also consolidate 16 different IT environments across Bharti Airtel’s African operations into an integrated IT system and will oversee the management of all of the applications, data center operations, servers, storage and desktop services.

When the agreement becomes final, IBM will provide customer support applications that include customer relationship management, billing and self-care that will empower customers and assist Bharti Airtel in delivering 2G and 3G mobile services.

In addition, IBM plans to deploy a content management system to offer media content such as music and video over mobile devices, while simultaneously facilitating the growth of the application developer community in Africa.

The strategic partnership will enable Bharti Airtel to scale its network and systems to more than 100 million African customers by 2012.

Bharti Airtel has operations in Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

By Samuel Dowuona

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