France Telecom-Orange has announced a new partnership with Visa, enhancing its current mobile payment option, Orange Money, available to its customers in the Middle East and Africa (MENA). Introduced in 2008, Orange Money is available in 8 countries in the MENA region.

Orange Money already affords it customers a significant amount of transactions, including person-to-person transfers, bill payments, and loading or withdrawing funds.

With the introduction of Visa Mobile Prepaid in select markets by the end of the year, Orange customers will also be able to make person-to-person payments, retail and e-commerce purchases and withdraw cash at Visa ATMs. The option to use Visa Mobile Prepaid accounts, together with their Orange Money accounts gives customers access to 30 million merchants and 1.9 million ATMs worldwide.

Orange already provides payment options to 3.5 million unbanked mobile subscribers in Africa. Speaking about the initiative,  Jean-Paul Cottet, Orange’s Executive Director for Marketing and Innovation said, ”By combining the convenience of Orange Money with the reach of Visa’s global payment network, we can offer new payment capability to Orange Money customers in their home country and abroad.”

Visa president, John Partridge added, ”Mobile technology has become one of the most important enablers of financial inclusion and its ubiquity is allowing mobile network operators, financial institutions, and Visa to connect financially under-served consumers to each other and the global economy. The convergence of mobile and financial services networks helps to remove service barriers, accelerates the pace of change and is transforming the lives of consumers in developing countries.”

Despite an increase in services for its emerging markets’ customers, whether in the world of mobile payments or entertainment, Orange faces a serious set of obstacles. Speaking at Mobile World Congress, Orange’s Executive Vice President for Africa, Middle East and Asia, Marc Rennard revealed the long-term plan for the company in its emerging markets. The carrier is aiming to increase revenue from $4.5 billion to $9 billion, and snag the number one or two spot, otherwise it will have to re-evaluate its place in the market, and reportedly withdraw.

According to Eden Zoller, principal analyst at research firm Ovum, Orange’s challenges include finding a economical approach to expanding its network infrastructure, and the dominance of feature phones in the African market.

With the prediction that mobile subscriptions in Africa will surpass 1 billion by 2016, putting the mobile penetration rate at 87%, Africa does remain the ideal market for enhanced mobile payment options.

Orange also recently introduced other mobile services, including a text-based service for African mobile subscribers to access Facebook without incurring data charges, while also offering access to Wikipedia for free.