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Orange promises free Wikipedia in Africa and the Middle East

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Orange is offering Wikipedia access free to its network customers in the Middle East and Africa. The deal with Wikimedia Foundation will let Orange mobile customers look at the free online encyclopedia with zero data charges in 20 countries. Developing countries get Wikipedia access Orange has been working with Wikipedia since 2009 “to expand the

Orange is offering Wikipedia access free to its network customers in the Middle East and Africa.

The deal with Wikimedia Foundation will let Orange mobile customers look at the free online encyclopedia with zero data charges in 20 countries.

Developing countries get Wikipedia access

Orange has been working with Wikipedia since 2009 “to expand the reach of Wikimedia’s projects through channels on Orange mobile and web portals in Europe”.  It seems that for now, the focus has shifted from developed to developing countries.

Orange has around 70 million customers in Africa and the Middle East. At the moment, only a small portion of these have access to 2G and 3G internet, but the region has seen some of the fastest mobile penetration rate growth in the world.

The project will be rolled out across 20 countries, starting in early 2012. Wikimedia Foundation aims to bring Wikipedia to billions of mobile devices all over the world.

Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation has called the partnership an “important endeavour” which will help bring Wikipedia to those who couldn’t access it before. This is especially important in poor infrastructure countries, where mobile technologies allow to bypass fixed-line telecommunications and leapfrog straight into the mobile age.

Wikipedia is not losing any money in the deal as it is a free service, supported by money from charitable donors such as Google’s Sergey Brin. It has been in the news this week, with a blackout protest against the proposed US SOPA legislation, and boosted its mobile presence with an official Android app.