Opera, the developer of the most used mobile browser in Africa, is significantly scaling up its operations on the continent as it gradually becomes a major player in the tech space.
For years, the Opera Mini browser has been crucial to Africans due to its ability to bring down data costs, and it now has over 100 million monthly users on the continent.
The company is now looking to build on this success, and the increasing mobile and internet penetration that it has done so much to encourage, by doubling down on its operations in Africa. In May of last year, Opera announced it will invest $100 million over the next two years to help facilitate the growth of the African digital economy.
The company will use the money in a bid to speed up internet adoption in Africa, and strengthen the internet ecosystem with local partners, which will have the overall effect of securing more customers for Opera.
Meanwhile, towards the end of last year, in what analysis firm World Wide Worx co-founder Arthur Goldstuck says was an “unexpected move”, it integrated a new web payment platform in Kenya which directly runs on the Opera Mini browser.
The new service – OPay – will enable Opera Mini users to top up their Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom mobile phone accounts, as well as pay electricity, cable TV and utility bills, directly through the platform, and will also accommodate many payment methods, including credit cards and mobile money.
Goldstuck said the company has evidently decided to further build on the significant success it had already seen in Africa, where its browser had proven a good fit.
“Part of the reason for these initiatives is that it discovered quite early that its slimmed-down mobile browser was ideal for African circumstances, where connectivity is patchy and the cost of mobile data high. As a result, it began to place even greater emphasis on serving the needs of African markets,” he said.
Goldstuck said the best sign of how important African markets are to Opera was the success of its localised news service.
“It has signed up numerous news services across many African markets, and uses artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver stories based on what kind of content users access regularly. The user base of this service increased from two million to 100 million in a year,” he said.
Indeed, the newly released Opera News app saw more than 100,000 downloads in less than two weeks at the start of this year, meaning it is well on the way to becoming the number one news app in Africa.
The app enables people to access their favourite news articles and trending videos, with its powerful recommendation engine designed to keep users on top of all the things they love to read and watch.
Opera News also saves up to 80 percent of a user’s mobile data use.
Goldstuck said what was notable about Opera’s development on the continent was that it had been able to tap into its needs and build a massive user base without having had any evident firsthand experience of Africa.
“The most interesting aspect of its business strategy is that, for a very small company based in Norway, it is able to create a presence in almost every African country, and become a unique platform to deliver both content and advertising in all these markets, via mobile devices,” he said.
This also has a serious impact on the ability of the company to make money, which is growing exponentially and accounts for Opera’s growing interest in the continent.
“The content leads to the advertising, and positions Opera as a dominant player in mobile advertising in Africa, alongside the big social networks,” Goldstuck said.
“The rapid growth in the user base for its news service indicates that Opera is capable of meeting the needs of its market, expanding rapidly, and evolving as a business. On the surface, it seems healthier now than at any other time in its history.”
Tom Jackson is co-founder of Disrupt Africa, a news and research company focused on the African tech startup ecosystem.