Orange has announced a $40 phone that comes with data for the Middle East and African market

Orange 31

A lot of announcements are happening at the ongoing Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. While telcos all over the world are trying to build a WhatsApp killer, one telco figures it will release radically cheap smartphones. Orange says it is partnering with Google to increase access to mobile internet and services across the Middle East and Africa. The partnership comes in the shape of a smartphone and an accompanying communications bundle that includes voice, SMS and data. The whole package will cost $40 and will begin to roll out from the second quarter of 2016.

The Orange Rise 31, pictured above, is the first in the line to deploy. The specs of Orange’s self-described flagship device consist of a 4 inch screen, 1GB RAM/8 GB ROM, a 3 megapixel camera, a 1,500 mAH battery, and will run the latest version of Android (6.0 Marshmallow). Hardly “flagship” specs, but at $40, this is a highly subsidised device.

The Orange device will be tightly integrated with Google services, according to the official release. The included emphasis is mine.

“Orange and Google have come together to deliver a package that is tailored to meet the needs of the market. Customers across the Orange MEA footprint will now have access to a range of best-in-class online services including, but not limited to, popular content covering fashion, sport and music, as well as everyday tools such as Google Search, YouTube and Google Maps.”

Unless there’s something more to it, this sounds like every other regular Android device on the market. The “but not limited”, part of the earlier paragraph makes me wonder if this isn’t Orange’s version of Facebook’s Free Basics, except that it will be powered by Google and comes with a phone? The $40 price tag covers the device, but how long will the accompanying communications bundle last? Perhaps the plan is to ensure that users can keep using Google services when they use the alloted data up, even if they won’t be able to access the wider web till they recharge? CNBC is reporting that the data bundles will last three months, after which the user will need to top up.

We have reached out to Orange for comment.