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How telecom partnerships and WhatsApp’s compatibility with cheap mobile devices helped the messaging service become a “utility” in the Global South: How Whatsapp Southwodinskygizmodo

How Whatsapp Southwodinskygizmodo: Thanks to mobile penetration rates in the 90% range and cheap data plans, WhatsApp has essentially become a “public utility” in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. This is because it has been adopted as a key communication tool for daily life, ensuring that people have quick access to news and other information, as well as being able to efficiently coordinate tasks with friends and family. Mobile data connectivity and telecom partnerships are two of the factors that play into this phenomenon.

Given the demographic profile of WhatsApp users (younger adults) and the fact that there is a high degree of network diffusion in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is not surprising that it has become a staple communication tool for young adults. Communication via WhatsApp also makes use of more flexible and informal formats, which are more conducive to day-to-day use. Essentially, the app has become an alternative to SMS and provides an easier method for people to send messages for free.

One other factor that makes WhatsApp such a popular communication medium in Sub-Saharan Africa is that there are very few alternatives to it, as more comprehensive platforms like Facebook and Twitter are less accessible due to low Internet penetration rates. Another advantage of the app is that it can be used with basic mobile devices (most often sold for less than $50), which have limited memory and processing capabilities.

In light of these factors, it is not surprising that telecom companies have adopted partnerships with WhatsApp. As a result, there are now more than 40 carriers and MVNOs that have signed agreements with the messaging service to provide their customers with access to it. Some of the reasons why these companies have done this include:
In addition, WhatsApp provides an effective channel for corporate communications while at the same time allowing telecoms to derive additional revenue from “over-the-top” (OTT) services in a highly competitive market environment.

Developing a partnership with WhatsApp gives telecoms access to new markets and helps them navigate the international telecom landscape, as well as comply with state regulations. For instance in 2014, Orange announced that it was going to give 100 million of its customers in Africa free access to WhatsApp for two years. Afterwards, Orange customers would have the option of purchasing an inexpensive data plan that would allow them to continue using the messaging service.

In brief, telecom partnerships with WhatsApp are beginning to shape the future of mobile telecommunications in Sub-Saharan Africa. A majority of the region’s adults use a mobile device to access the Internet, but access rates for broadband remain very low and Africa has one of the lowest rates of Facebook use in the world. In response to these trends and market conditions, telecoms have been able to leverage partnerships with WhatsApp in order to better provide for their customers’ needs.

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