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A closer look at Opera’s “Africa First Approach”

20 years ago, the name Opera was only synonymous with its browser, but over time the Norwegian software company has grown, now offering a suite of products and services.

Last month I had a conversation with Opera’s Executive Vice President for Mobile, Jorgen Arnesen to understand Opera’s “Africa First approach”.

In Africa, Opera became popular due to its partnership with Nokia. This partnership saw an increase in the use of its browser and the launch of the popular Opera mini browser. Notably, Opera was initially released in April 1995, making it one of the oldest desktop web browsers still actively maintained and used today. 

Three years ago, Opera announced its “Africa First Approach”, meaning its mobile products and services are being developed first with the African consumer in mind. Arnesen says Opera decided on this approach because it believes Africa has huge potential.

A recent report from GSMA showed that only 300 million out of  1.1 billion people are connected to the internet in Sub Saharan Africa. This means less than 1 in 3 people are online today. But by 2025, it is expected that 678 million people in the region will be connected to the internet. 

He pointed out that two years ago, Opera News was launched and today, it is the leading news and content app in Africa, with 25 million monthly active users as of Q3 2020.

Opera also launched data centres in Lagos and Mombasa to optimize connectivity, making its products faster and more reliable for users. 

While Opera has seen some success in Africa, with its users growing to 150 million monthly active users by the third quarter of 2020, it has faced some challenges along the way. 

To reduce the friction in using its products, Opera has partnered with network service providers to give free data to its African users. 

Although these partnerships aren’t any different from what it does in other countries like Indonesia or Germany, Arnesen says that notably, data prices are more expensive in Africa than other parts of the world.

He said, “In my home country Norway, which has a GDP per capita of $81 697, the cost of 1GB of data is $5.28. In South Africa, the same GB costs $4.30, slightly less than in Norway, but the GDP per capita is $6 374.

He also mentioned that in Africa a large portion of mobile internet subscribers run out of data every day due to lack of funds.

One other notable issue is that Africa has a more diverse range of low-end smartphones when compared to other regions.

Looking at the returns on its investment in the African market, Arnesen pointed out that as mentioned in Opera’s last earnings call, when compared to other more developed markets like Germany, there’s a big difference in revenue per user. 

Anticipating improvements in monetization, Opera has built its custom advertising platform and has its Global Head of ad operations sitting in South Africa.

Last August it launched its own digital services agency, Opera for Business in partnership with Google Nigeria. Opera for Business helps local merchants get online, helping them with advertising, website development and other optimisation services.

These services are offered in three plans with the cheapest plan being a one time $10 fee, while the highest is a $49 per month fee for a suite of value-adding services.

Arnesen says Opera is in talks with banks, telcos, and other corporations to expand the services it renders. When I asked about the adoption and performance of Opera for Business in Nigeria, refusing to disclose numbers he said it’s satisfactory but has faced some bumps of the road like the EndSARS protests.

What’s next for Opera? 

With its recent partnership with Mdundo to offer free music channels in Opera Mini and the introduction of other features such as file sharing, download manager, offline reader mode. It’s also looking at providing other relevant services features that make it easier for people to stay connected.

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