Mobile network Orange is teaming up with the Wikimedia Foundation to make Wikipedia available for free on mobile phones to more than 70 million Orange customers in Africa and the Middle East (AMEA).

In what is being touted as the first partnership of its kind for Wikipedia, the proposition will see the online encyclopedia become exempt from data-usage charges on the Orange network in twenty countries across the AMEA region where Orange operates.

Back in 2009, Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation formed the world’s first mobile and Internet partnership to expand the reach of Wikimedia’s projects, through co-branded channels on Orange’s mobile and web portals.

The Wikimedia Foundation is the non-profit organization that operates Wikipedia and other related projects, garnering in the region of 470 million unique visitors per month combined. Back in November, The Next Web interviewed Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, when he revealed that it recently surpassed 420m unique monthly visitors, with more than 20 million articles now published across almost 300 languages.

This latest partnership will seek to build on this uptake, and will be launched gradually throughout 2012, with the first markets thought to be launching imminently. The initiative is part of the Wikimedia Foundation’s mobile strategy that aims to reach the billions of people around the world who access the Internet solely on their mobile devices.

Any customer with an Orange SIM and Web-enabled phone will be able to access Wikipedia on their browser or via an Orange widget without incurring costs, and there will be no restrictions in place, as long as they stay within the Wikipedia website.

“Wikipedia is an important service, a public good — and so we want people to be able to access it for free, regardless of what device they’re using,” said Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. “This partnership with Orange will enable millions of people to read Wikipedia, who previously couldn’t. We’re thrilled to be Orange’s partner in this important endeavor.”