Weekly Review August 15-19

In response to the slow but steady increases in smartphone adoption and data usage in Africa, developers are releasing mobile applications to increase interoperability in the mobile money industry. This week, we read about new mobile apps appearing in emerging markets that increase access to financial services. We also read about mobile Internet access throughout Africa that allows for the adoption of such services. Africa is leveraging mobile technology for social change.

Kenya: Tech Firm Pulls Down Cost of E-Commerce with New App“ by Paul Vafula via All Africa
Craft Silicon has released a new mobile application, Elma, to facilitate mobile commerce transactions in Kenya. The application runs on 3G-enabled mobile phones and facilitates transactions among users and service providers who have installed the application. For a subscription fee of Sh80/month, users can “transfer money, pay bills, buy airtime, buy stocks, and check commodity prices.” Elma is claiming to be a solution for interoperability amongst mobile money service providers, no matter which Mobile Network Operators (MNO) hosts the service. By facilitating interoperability, more users in emerging markets can take advantage of mobile money transfer services.

Application to wean mobile money off SIM card” by Patrick Githinji via Mobile Money Africa

Currently, mobile money users are tied to their MNO and can only make transfers to other users hosted by the same provider. Now, Orange Kenya allows money transfers by way of Java and WAP applications, unattached to SIM cards. Although this means that consumers won’t have to belong to a particular telecom, it will drive demand for such services. Interoperability leads to increased transaction frequency and increased adoption. According to the Orange CEO, the new Java and WAP applications will allow users to transfer money with their mobile device to “anywhere in the world.” Along with the start of 3G services in Kenya and a rise in smartphone adoption (see below), the demand for applications downloaded from or hosted on the Internet is growing. In addition to Orange’s new application and Craft Silicon’s Elma, Google is expected to allow mobile payments on the Android operation system later this year.

Smartphones will drive Africa’s Internet uptake” by Savious Kwinika via IT News Africa
Smartphones and feature phones are required to facilitate the increasing adoption of mobile applications like Elma. While the most popular phone in Africa is the Nokia “dumb phone,” smartphones are becoming more affordable. Half of the African population owns a mobile phone. Twelve million Africans have data plans and this number is expected to grow to 265 million by 2015. Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry, reports growth in data usage amongst its customers. Although Internet penetration is currently low in Africa, leveraging mobile ubiquity to promote mobile Internet will “have a huge impact on productivity and efficiency in Africa” for individuals and businesses alike. Furthermore, more smartphones means more applications, opening the door for interoperable mobile money transfer services and financial inclusion.

8ta slashes data prices – again” via IT News Africa
In addition to increased demand for applications, smartphones, and mobile Internet, data prices are falling in Africa. South Africa’s 8ta is offering a 3GB pre-paid data bundle for about $21USD. There’s no contract, so users can top up whenever they need to. 8ta also offers a 10GB post-paid data package.

Dual SIM mobile phones ideal for Africa” via IT News Africa

Many Africans own two mobile phones to take advantage of the offerings of two different MNOs. In response, Samsung offers dual SIM phones and predicts that they will gain 15% of the market share with this offering. The dual SIM phone allows users to switch between SIM cards easily to take advantage of the network depending on where they are and whom they want to call. This type of phone gives users the opportunity to maximize their airtime on the network that suits them best in different scenarios. In the case of mobile money, it would allow users to make transfers with the mobile service provider or two different operators. This, however, does not allow for universal interoperability like Internet-enabled mobile applications.