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In her keynote at MWC this morning, IBM CEO Virginia Rometty made it clear that the company sees Africa as a huge opportunity over the next decade.
What sets Africa apart from other markets, according to Rometty, is that its infrastructure was built with mobile in mind. Payments and communications are already built on top of a booming phone market and incomes continue to rise, driving demand for better gadgets and services.
That’s why IBM is pushing for a bigger presence on the continent. It already has locations in 20 of the 54 countries in Africa, and last year opened the first of its 12 major research labs in the world in Nairobi, the capital and largest city of Kenya. Rometty herself visited the continent four times last year; a visit to the continent earlier this month was actually the first time the whole top brass had assembled outside New York since she became the boss just over a year ago.
In addition to pushing its mobile capabilities, IBM will also be deploying its Watson supercomputer in Africa, where it will be put to use in education and cervical cancer research.
Rometty’s statements mirror a common thread running through the presentations being given at this year’s Mobile World Congress going on in Barcelona: the rising importance of mobile in low-income nations.
Earlier this week, people were talking about the slew of phones coming in the $US25 to $US35 price range that will bring the versatility of the mobile Web to a price category dominated by feature (or “dumb”) phones.
Nokia, much to Microsoft’s chagrin, also unveiled three low-cost Android phones built on top of Microsoft services for release in international markets.
It’s increasingly looking like Apple and Samsung own the high end of the smartphone market. With everybody else in the space pursuing the burgeoning low end, it’ll be interesting to see what kinds of services IBM will be able to offer to an unusual but quickly growing market.