The future is certainly bright – this quarter we talk airtime and electrifying Africa with Orange’s Frédéric Blehaut


Orange is flying high, as one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators with sales of €41billion in 2017, and 149,000 employees worldwide. In recent times, the company has launched its Orange Money business, as well as confirming its desire to become a key player in the energy transition sector in Africa with the arrival of Orange Energie. This multinational telecommunications corporation is breaking down barriers and taking up the challenge of electrifying Africa, while connecting diaspora around the world via airtime.

Ding speaks to Frédéric Blehaut, MD of Orange Link, about impacting customers lives and the growth of international airtime transfer. 

Tell us a little about when your Orange journey began?

My Orange journey began almost 15 years ago and I have seen a great deal by way of transformation in that time – in terms of airtime transfer, but also more broadly the mobile sector as a whole.

Today I am head of the International Airtime Transfer business, which includes an international distribution network and an ecommerce platform. The Orange story around airtime transfer started 10 years ago with transfers initially only going between France, Cameroon, Madagascar and Mali. Today we facilitate transfer to 130+ counties around the world to a diverse community of users.

Orange is synonymous with innovation and ‘firsts’ in the telecoms sector – how is this culture fostered today?

We have a strong central innovation team, to manage technological developments and build industry relevant products and services, while also fostering innovation at a local level in order to answer specific market needs. We also develop a lot of co-innovation programmes with start-ups and partners.

"While innovation is undoubtedly a key ingredient in our business, we place customer experience at the heart of what we do."

While innovation is undoubtedly a key ingredient in our business, we place customer experience at the heart of what we do. and our new strategy sets out to enable customers to fully benefit from the digital universe and the power of our new generation networks. 

Orange Money is an excellent initiative – what other initiatives are you doing to help the billions of under/unbanked to access technology and improve their lives?

We have recently launched Orange Money in several countries including Madagascar. In December 2017, we also launched Orange Energie in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR), then Mijro in Madagascar in February, Orange is now moving forwards in the deployment of its electrification programme for rural zones by launching the service in Burkina Faso. Orange aspires to be much more than a telecoms operator in Africa.

The programme involves the rollout of solar kit systems, which are robust and can light up a whole house, charge the household’s mobile phones, and power a radio or even a television. This can provide access to electricity to millions who currently have no access. And the service can be paid for via Orange Money.

Electricity is at the heart of Orange’s ambitions in Africa and is a key initiative that can strongly and positively impact everyday life for many people around the world. And we are very proud of it.

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What are the benefits of your service to your international airtime customers?

It’s so simple. Our customers can send international airtime from many shops or websites, and the people they care about receive immediate credit on their mobile phones, which they can use directly to connect to the digital world.

In some cases there is no need to go into a shop, or no need to have an account…they can simply use their own phone to transfer credit to loved ones.

What changes are the internet and digital ecommerce bringing to your business?

We think the internet and ecommerce enables us to address different customer needs such as travellers and help to ease the customer journey. Transferring airtime has become so simple - it can be done from your mobile phone, which is changing the face of international airtime transfer!

What are the biggest issues facing mobile operators in your view today?

The main issue is to avoid disintermediation by big Over-The-Top (OTT) players.  

According to the World Bank, remittances will grow to $642 billion in 2018 – with more of the global diaspora supporting their families from abroad than ever before. Sending airtime is increasingly being utilised as a form of remittance among the global diaspora – is Orange seeing evidence of this? 

Yes, we certainly have experienced continued growth in the sending of international airtime as a form of remittance over the last five years and this growth has in fact accelerated in the last semester.

What are the key trends you are seeing for your piece of the business so far in 2018, and looking into 2019?

Africa is at the heart of our business ambition and we want to develop the business within Africa, knowing that most African migrants live in Africa.

We believe mobile to mobile transfer will take a greater share of the business. And data promotions are important to our customers and have to be offered and developed further.

Where has the greatest growth come from for your business in recent years?

West Africa has been our key region for growth in recent years.

iPhone or Android?

And finally…Mbappe or Pogba?