11 February 2013

Africa: Faster Browser for Cheap Smartphones Launched

Cairo — A new Android web browser could help users of low-end versions of smartphones, which are becoming increasingly common in in Africa, the Middle East and Asia (AMEA), navigate the Internet up to 30 per cent faster.

Chinese web services company Baidu has teamed up with telecommunications firm France Télécom-Orange to develop the application, called El Browzer, which is based on a mobile browser that Baidu made for Chinese smartphone owners.

Orange says that El Browzer is more data efficient than other smartphone browsers. According to Tania Aydenian, mobile partnerships manager at the firm, its data compression capabilities reduce the amount of data consumed by 30 to 90 per cent, making it faster.

Aydenian tells SciDev.Net that compressing data helps users of lower-cost smartphones navigate the Internet more cheaply. The browser also simplifies web access by using one-click links to preferred services.

"Orange's smartphone penetration across AMEA countries currently ranges between eight and 15 per cent of the nearly 80 million customers in this region," she says.

"We are seeing growth in demand for smartphones across all of our markets [in this region]. For example, in Egypt, we saw demand for Android devices double in the second half of 2012."

El Browzer, which was launched in Egypt this month (1 February), has been developed to fulfil the growing low-end smartphone market in AMEA countries.

Arabic and English versions of the free browser are available pre-installed on Android devices sold via Mobinil, an Egyptian firm partly owned by France Télécom-Orange. A French version is also being developed.

Alternatively, Mobinil customers can download the browser to their Android devices.

Mosab Ahmad, a senior software engineer at Egyptian IT firms Zobad.net and Shaghal.com, says that the simplified browser will save resources as unnecessary functions have been removed.

According to Ahmad, data compression is not only good for the user but also for operators as it frees up valuable bandwidth.

"This browser is a huge step, not because of its technological aspects, but because of the size of the two corporates [behind it]," he says.

Ahmad adds that Orange has a huge Internet network and that Baidu rarely partners with other companies.

But Ahmed Elmalkey, a software developer for Egyptian IT company Airoffice.net, is sceptical about the new browser's compression technology.

"Sending compressed data might involve some kind of encryption that should worry many governments in the region because customers' data will be controlled by a private company," he says.

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