Telecom providers launch app challenges to spur innovation in Africa, Asia

In order to spur innovation and further fuel the already hot mobile markets in Africa and Asia, rival telecom providers have launched app challenges.

Ahead of the Aug. 3 launch of Orange’s app challenge for startup developers mainly in Africa, announced the first week of July, India-based Airtel has announced a similar contest.

Set to be France-based Orange’s largest international developer challenge to date, the program is aimed at supporting local startups and driving innovation in Africa and the Middle East. The challenge is for developers in 13 countries (11 in Africa), and will involve use of its APIs.

While Orange notes that the developer challenge will be the first in which the telco will open up its APIs in Africa and the Middle East, it maintains that it isn’t their intention to merely provide a cash prize to developers just for making an app.

“We are actively going to collaborate with these developers to help them launch their solutions, on our network, to our customers,” Orange said in email. “Additionally, the scale of the competition covering so many countries is again something we believe that no other operator in this region has done before. The success of such programmes will spur the opening up of our platforms more widely to developers with the shared ambition of designing new services tailored specifically for our AMEA customers.”

Ten startups will compete from each country, using three Orange APIs (for eSMS, USSD and Director Operator Billing) as a test platform. Thirteen runner-up projects will emerge, then one global winner.

On the other hand, Airtel’s challenge—a partnership with Singtel and Samsung—seeks to attract developers in Africa and Asia who will partner with the companies to launch applications on the two continents.

Airtel Africa will provide all operational support to promote the campaign while Singtel and Samsung will organize a mentorship program for the regional winners and the finale.

During its five-month app challenge, Airtel will engage African and Asian developers and partner with them to develop consumer-centric mobile applications that will leverage mobile network services including mobile, data, carrier billing, location and SMS.

Overall winners will be expected to start working with Airtel and Singtel in 2016.

Airtel Africa Chief Executive Officer Christian de Faria, said in a press release that the company wants to partner with like-minded individuals who will come forward “to come up with apps that will help us deliver the best smartphone experience for customers.”

While there is no definite link between the timing chosen by the telecom companies, telcos appear eager to organize app challenges as it gives them a way to enter the app and app store market as a value-added service provider.