Bharti Airtel and IBM formalise African alliance

A longstanding alliance between Bharti Airtel and IBM has been formalised into a ten year agreement which will focus on the African telecoms market. Following a longstanding alliance, Bharti has now formally selected IBM to manage the computing technology and services powering its mobile networks across sixteen African countries. The agreement is expected to be finalised in the fourth quarter.

Under a completed agreement, IBM will deploy and manage information technology infrastructure and applications to support Bharti Airtel’s goal of bringing affordable and innovative mobile services to remote locations in Africa.  In addition, IBM will deploy advanced 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.

When completed, the agreement will extend a deep relationship between IBM and Bharti Airtel that was established in 2004 by Bharti Airtel tapping IBM to run the IT and applications for its entire Indian network.

At the time, Bharti Airtel had around six million subscribers – a figure that has grown to over 150 million today.  The operator’s goal for the African market is to lower the entry barrier for owning a mobile device.

According to a Deloitte report commissioned by the mobile communications industry association GSMA, only 40 out of every 100 Africans have a mobile phone.  However, demand is growing at an average rate of 25 percent annually, and a 10 percent rise in mobile penetration could increase gross domestic product by 1.2 per cent in developing markets.

Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharti Airtel, said:  “There are huge opportunities throughout Africa to transform how people communicate and how communities interact.  Delivering on that opportunity through affordable mobile communications for everyone is our focus.”

Under the 10-year planned agreement, IBM will 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 centre 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, which it hopes will foster the growth of the application developer community in Africa.

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.

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