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Bharti to jump-start Africa's mobile communications

Ten-year agreement with IBM will help speed economic development

New tech era in Africa. IBM Chairman and CEO Samuel J. Palmisano (right) and Bharti Airtel chairman and Managing director Sunil Bharti Mital participate in a press conference on Friday, September 17 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya to announce the selection of IBM to manage Bharti Airtel's mobile communications network in Africa.

A new agreement between South Asia's leading mobile telecom provider and IBM will jump-start African mobile communications and boost the pace of development on the continent. Using IBM technology, Bharti Airtel Limited will deliver affordable 2G and 3G mobile services through its 16 operations in Africa.

According to a Deloitte report, only 40 out of every 100 Africans have a mobile phone. Demand, however, is growing at roughly 25 percent a year. In developing markets communication is economically critical; each 10 percent rise in mobile penetration can increase GDP by 1.2 percent. Mobile communications are already changing economics in other developing areas, for example, by allowing farmers to get instant weather forecasts and fishermen to learn market prices while still at sea.

"We have achieved great success together in India, and now we are bringing that model to Africa," said Sam Palmisano, IBM's chairman, president and chief executive officer, referring to the company's long business relationship with Bharti. "By building a 21st century telecommunications infrastructure for the continent... we expect to help spark transformation not just in communications but across all sectors of society–empowering businesses, governments and individual citizens to connect, innovate and achieve economic growth."

40%: the currect percentage of Africans with a mobile phone. #1: rank among fast-growing markets.

Under the 10-year agreement IBM will consolidate different IT environments across Bharti's operations in 16 African countries into an integrated system and will oversee the management of its components and services. Plus, IBM will introduce advanced technologies created by IBM Research, including the Spoken Web, a voice-enabled Internet technology that lets users access and share information simply by using existing telephones. This approach is particularly compelling for populations that lack access to computers or have low literacy rates.

From IBM's perspective, the agreement could position the company as the IT player at the center of Africa's IT transformation. The total African IT market is valued at more than $7 billion and is set to grow to $9.1 billion in the next two years or so.

Bharti Airtel has mobile communications 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 building a 21st century telecommunications infrastructure for the continent we expect to help spark transformation not just in communications but across all sectors of society--empowering ubsinesses, governments and individual citizens to connect, innovate an achieve economic growth -- Samuel J. palmisano, IBM chairman