A deal between telecommunications company Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organization that operates Wikipedia, made the groundbreaking access possible and will allow Orange’s cell customers free mobile access and downloads from Wikipedia without data usage charges.
"Wikipedia is an important service, a public good — and so we want people to be able to access it for free, regardless of what device they're using," said Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. "This partnership with Orange will enable millions of people to read Wikipedia, who previously couldn't. We're thrilled to be Orange's partner in this important endeavour."
The service will gradually be rolled out in 20 African and Middle Eastern countries during 2012, with the first 8 markets located in Africa.
As a market for mobile phones, Africa as a whole has seen a 20 percent rate of growth each year for the past five years, according to reports. By the end of 2012 estimates say there will be a record of more than 735 million mobile subscribers in Africa.
"That is equivalent to a 65 percent penetration rate. Out of every 100 people, 65 have some form of mobile connectivity," Peter Lyons, GSM Association’s director of spectrum policy for Africa and Middle East, told the BBC.
However generous and far-reaching the plan appears, some in Africa fear that although millions will have free access, countless others will still be priced out of the benefit.
"Although there is increasing ownership of smart phones, there is still a large number of people who cannot afford them," Catherine Ngahu, chair of the Kenya ICT Board, told SciDev.Net. "In order to widen reach, Orange should consider marketing lower-cost smart phones."
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(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images For The Clinton Foundation)