Category Archives: Commercial Projects

Nokia Life Tools lands in Indonesia

Here is today’s announcement about a Nokia Life Tools launch in Indonesia. I would be very keen to know what exactly is the technology behind Nokia Life Tools. Would anyone be able to clarify?

By Mike on 04 November 2009

Nokia-Life-Tools-Farmer

JAKARTA, Indonesia – It’s almost a year to the day that we first reported on an intriguing new service called Nokia Life Tools. Piloted and then officially debuting in India, Life Tools was designed to help improve the livelihood and lives of farmers, students and many people in more remote and rural areas in emerging market countries. It does this by offering easily accessible and up-to-date crop prices, education tools and entertainment packages, delivering this valuable information on a simple SMS backbone. Hence we’re excited to see Nokia Life Tools announced for Indonesia, where it has been keenly tailored towards its people’s needs.

Read on to find out more, see photos of folk using the service, and as always, share your comments below.

Nokia Life Tools has been tailored for Indonesian farmers

Nokia-Life-Tools-IndonesiaWhereas in India much of the focus for the agriculture service was aimed at delivering timely crop prices to help ensure farmers were able to get better value for their produce, Life Tools for Indonesia has been tailored to provide precious up-to-date info on livestock, fisheries and horticulture, as well as crops.

In terms of what this actually means, farmers will be able to access market prices (consumer price, wholesale price, mill price and farmer price), and are also able to tap into tips and advice on farming techniques (such as animal health care and alerts on new government schemes), as well as receive all-important weather forecasts.

We’re stoked to see how Life Tools has been tweaked to target the unique needs of the people in this territory – could this approach be suited to other services too? Let us know what you think.

The agriculture service will initially launch in Java and Sumatera, prior to rolling out across the rest of Indonesia.

Help with education through Nokia Life Tools

Nokia-Life-Tools-EducationWhen you access the education part of Life Tools there are three strands you can pursue – learning English, preparing for school and higher education exams, and improving your general knowledge.

Learning English is broken into beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, making it easy for anyone to jump in at the stage they’re most comfortable with. In terms of an outcome, the information and lessons that are delivered through Life Tools have been designed to help students come out the other side with the ability to read, write and understand simple English pieces of text.

The test preparation part of the education tool provides students with valuable access to material in keeping with the national curriculum at junior and high school levels. As for the general knowledge stuff, much of that information is again tailored to the region, supplemented with more info related to global general knowledge.

Nokia Life Tools injects entertainment

Nokia-Life-Tools-Entertainment

The entertainment tool adds a lighter touch to proceedings, enabling folk pluck news, astrology, jokes, movie news and reviews via subscription or on-demand. Whereas downloads such as wallpapers, animations, themes, music and comics are solely available via on-demand.

Nokia-1800Nokia Life Tools will launch in Indonesia in early December 2009, and will debut on the Nokia 2323 classic, Nokia 2330 classic and Nokia 2700 classic. It’ll later become available on the five new devices announced today for Indonesia, including the Nokia 1280 (Nokia’s cheapest ever phone), Nokia 1616, Nokia 1800, Nokia 2220 slide and Nokia 2690.

via Nokia Life Tools lands in Indonesia | Nokia Conversations – The official Nokia Blog.

Mobile Information Services for agriculture and rural development: The Esoko Initiative

Wageningen, 2 November 2009. During the CTA ICT Observatory 2009 we interviewed Mike Davies from Esoko, in Ghana. Esoko is a software platform licensed to facilitate the flow of market information between farmers, governments, researchers and other stakeholders involved in agriculture and rural development. It is used to share information on prices, offers, price of fertilizers etc. It is managed by the web, but delivered via mobile phones. Mark underlines the potential positive effects that Market Information Services such as Esoko can bring about, both in agriculture as well as in for other sectors. He then concludes talking about the difficulties he has encountered in this initiative, such as the lack of content available and the lack of right capacities to build and develop such software.

See more at observatory2009.cta.int/

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Infrastructure is Getting Smart

So recently I’ve been travelling for a bit after taking some time off in August. But after a short spell of flu I am back online and looking to point out interesting developments in the areas of ICT4D, mobile technology and technology enabled markets.

Below I am bringing to your attention a program from the Telecom TV series “The Bottom Line” and Ethan Zuckerman’s presentation from the Ars Electronica 2009 in Linz, Austria. I thought that the two video pieces fit together because they highlight the changing concept of infrastructure in the context of pervasive information and telecommunication technologies, and its complexity.

“The Bottom Line ” stresses the point that previously infrastructure used to be understood by most as buildings, roads, railways, shipping and airline routes, pipelines, financial services; and by some as communication networks, landline and wireless networks, data centres, computing power, software, routers, bandwidth, the Internet and so on. Currently, all these concepts of infratructure are converging. Mobile systems are connecting roads, the vehicles travelling on them and the stocks they are transporting. Mobile money is facilitating the flow of these stocks. The world is changing by the infrastructure getting smarter. The transformation provides a promise of a much more integrated world but also it introduces challenges to network operators and service providers.

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The presentation by Ethan Zuckerman from the Ars Electronica 2009 held in Linz, Austria also sets off with infrastructure as its starting point. Mr Zuckerman considers early attempts to map the Internet as the “electronic super highway”. He points out that currently the idea of mapping the Internet by means of tracing the whereabouts of physical infrastructure is outdated. Instead, he considers the concept of the Cloud and presents the idea of mapping the Internet by means of mapping the flows of technology use, as well as the lack thereof. Mr Zuckerman points out that the perceived level of globalization diverges from the actual level of out-of-context, non-local information we tend to seek. He suggests that there are areas of the world e.g. Nigeria, receiving far inadequate attention by information users and providers.

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Nokia announces finalists in 2009 “Calling All Innovators” global developer competition

The news below was announced yesterday by Nokia. The finalists in the mobile apps competition seem to be bringing some interesting mobile solutions to mobile payments, job search problems and location aware services.

Espoo, Finland – Forum Nokia Developer Community (FNDC) today announced the finalists in its 2009 Calling All Innovators contest, a global mobile developer competition designed to generate applications and solutions that enhance the use of Nokia mobile devices in real-world scenarios.
The total cash and prizes for the 2009 Calling All Innovators contest are worth more than $250,000. The top three submissions in each category will receive a cash award, and prizes that include premium placement featuring the winning application in Nokia’s Ovi Store, and the opportunity to demo their winning apps at Nokia World.
Over 1,700 submissions were received from developers in 85 countries signaling a strong answer to Nokia’s challenge to think big and create mobile applications and services that can help build a better mobile user experience. More than 421,000 visits to the contest website from around the world engaged with FNDC, the world’s largest mobile developer community.
“The quantity and quality of the applications we received are astounding,” said Purnima Kochikar, vice president, Forum Nokia Developer Community, Nokia.  “We encourage our developer community to work with us to extend their market reach, taking advantage of our global presence, global distribution through Ovi Store and local market knowledge. Turning the spotlight on our developers in marketing efforts like Calling All Innovators is just one way we can expose the best mobile applications from our developer community to consumers around the world.”
A complete list of Forum Nokia’s Calling All Innovators finalists including video demonstrations of the applications can be found online at http://www.callingallinnovators.com.  Following are the finalists in the 2009 Calling All Innovators global contest:
Internet Innovation – Developers were asked to submit either web applications known as Web Runtime widgets, or websites which are optimized for mobile browsing with Nokia devices.
– Pixelpipe for Share Online – This WRT widget application from San Francisco-based Pixelpipe, enables individuals to create and configure Nokia Share Online to use the Pixelpipe Media Gateway to distribute photos, video, audio and files to more than 90 popular social networking, photo/video, and blog services directly from the built-in phone gallery and camera applications. Developer website: http://pixelpipe.com/
– Dianping – This widget for one of the top websites in mainland China provides information about more than 275,000 restaurants, including descriptions, recommended dishes, address, phone number, price range and more. Individuals can search for restaurants by districts, categories, price range and key words. The application includes access to more than 7.5 million restaurant reviews, and coupons for restaurants, too. Developer website: http://www.dianping.com/citylist
– Tech Buzz Homescreen Widget – The Tech Buzz Widget from UK-based Mippin, is a fast, elegant way to reliably access the latest tech news anywhere on Nokia mobile devices. It regularly downloads tech stories from across the web, displaying the headlines and images in rotation on the Nokia N97 home screen, to give users immediate access. Developer website: http://www.mippin.com/web/index.jsp?p=2
Flash – Developers were asked to submit applications that expand the capabilities of Adobe Flash Lite on Nokia devices.
– FLORIN – Personal Finance Tracker – With the FLORIN flash-based application from UK-based BlueskyNorth, consumers have access to a highly capable, but easy to use personal finance tracker for use on Nokia Series 60 5th Edition devices. Developer website: http://www.blueskynorth.com/index.php
– Reuters Slideshow – The Reuters Slideshow app from UK-based Tui Interactive Media, combines Flash and WRT widget functionality to deliver a constantly updated feed of pictures and news. Coupled with its mini-view for use on S60 5th Edition devices, the application offers an engaging way to catch up on the latest news. Developer website: http://www.tui.co.uk/
– ActiveChinese – This mobile educational application, from the company of the same name, is comprised of 10 flash-animated lessons for English speakers to begin to learn how to speak Chinese. A series of built-in flashcards provides the most useful word and phrases, and includes: the Chinese character, Chinese pronunciation, PinYin, and the English translation. Developer website: http://www.activechinese.com/
Emerging Markets and Mobile Necessities – Developers were asked to submit applications or solutions that are the most innovative application using Nokia platforms, ranging from SMS through Series 40 and S60 device platforms. All applications would be evaluated, including those developed using Java, Python or open source.
– Mobile JobHunt – Inspired by Nokia Life Tools in India, Mobile JobHunt from LEG aims to help people in rural areas in China. JobHunt provides timely and accurate job information from major cities on Series 40 Nokia phones. Other related services include employment news, skills training, employment legal rights, and entertainment. Developer website: http://www.leg3s.com
– Mobile Credit Card Terminal – Mobile Credit Card Terminal from 2C2P in Singapore gives business owners the ability to charge a credit card/debit card, and to manage transactions securely from Nokia S60 devices without additional equipment. Developer website: http://www.2c2p.com/
– Blue Home – Created by Binu Johnson in India, Blue-Home installed on a Nokia S60 mobile device, and hardware in the home that can be purchased for approximately $30, an individual can monitor and operate six home appliances via Bluetooth in the mobile device. Developer website: http://www.bluehome.info/
Apps on Maps – Developers were asked to submit new ideas that harness the power of location-aware services using Ovi Maps on Nokia devices. From all of the ideas submitted, 14 developers were given exclusive access to the Ovi Beta SDK to turn their ideas into a completed application for use on Nokia devices.
– PocketLife – from Wanaka, New Zealand, is an established location-based social network for web and mobile. As a location-based lifestyle app, with Pocket Life for Ovi Maps on your Nokia device, individuals can always be in touch with their closest friends, down to knowing precisely where they are at that given time. Using Pocket Life, individuals can discover new places, share photos, and quickly know their way around like a local. Developer website: http://www.pocketlife.com
– Ground Guidance – How do you navigate when there are no roads? Ground Guidance with Ovi Maps solves this problem. With technology originally built for the U.S. Army, St. Paul, Minnesota-based Primordial uses an innovative, patented technique, combined with a wide range of data sources to create a walk-able route where no road data exists. Pick any two points in the app, and the user will be presented with a walk-able path to take. Developer website: http://www.primordial.com
– Smart Eggs – submitted by Forum Nokia PRO member company, MSCorp based in Coral Springs, Florida, will bring the thrill of discovery and surprise to your explorations when using Ovi Maps. Crack open a Smart Egg to get a multimedia review of the latest movie, or tips about special promotions from nearby shops. Engage in a mobile treasure hunt with your friends, collecting codes inside Premium Smart Eggs. This mobile app for brands, artists, and venues interacts with consumers at the local level, while promoting the use of multiple Nokia services and platforms, including Ovi Maps and more. Developer website: http://www.mscorp.com/
The winners in the Internet Innovation, Flash, and Emerging Markets and Mobile Necessities categories will be announced on September 1, in the evening prior to Nokia World 2009 in Stuttgart, Germany at an awards ceremony being held at the Porsche Museum. The Apps on Maps winners will be announced on September 3, during Nokia World.
In the Flash category, there is an additional prize of $10,000 USD for one application that also received funds from the Open Screen Project Fund (http://openscreen.forum.nokia.com/) this year.
Finally, the top 10 submissions in all three categories will receive the “Judge’s Choice Award”, which provides a one-year membership in Forum Nokia Launchpad (value of 300 euros). All Forum Nokia Launchpad members receive access to exclusive resources and support.

Safaricom Endorses Directive on Mobile Subscribers Registration

Having recently posted on mobile money and Safaricom’s M-Pesa and its current financial well-being I am convinced of the long term viability of services such as the popular and successful M-Pesa in Kenya. In my posts I have touched on the topic of regulation and the convergence of the telecommunications industry with the banking sector. So, I was very interested to find the news item below via the Wireless Federation. Unfortunately, it appears that topics such as fraud and identity theft which have become common themes in discussions of online commerce are unlikely to spare the world of mobile communications. Regulators in Kenya have taken a stance and seem to have established a registration requirement for mobile subscribers.

safaricomlogoJuly 24th, 2009
Safaricom has endorsed recent presidential directive requiring all mobile phone subscribers to be registered, a way to curb criminal activities. The firm said it would support the efforts being undertaken to improve the security of citizens.

“An enabling law will certainly give us the much-needed legal muscle to extend this to our entire network. It would map out how these records are to be used and give us the legal right to ask our subscribers for their details,” said Chief Executive Officer Mr Michael Joseph.

The process is expected to complete within six months with the Communication Commission of Kenya spearheading the efforts.

mpesa“We need to do this as a country. Safaricom already has over half of our subscriber base registered through our M-PESA and PostPay services and the popular Bonga loyalty scheme, for which registration is a standard requirement,” added Mr Joseph.

“Registration is no panacea to our crime problems and it can never be surrogate to professional police investigations. As is stands, criminals will always steal phones and even identities of innocent people, but it is a necessary first step in helping us combat the recent upsurge of mobile-phone related crime. At the end of the day, crime is a societal problem whose conquest requires the concerted efforts of all. At Safaricom, we have always played our part and that will continue,” said Mr Joseph.

AppLab launched in Uganda by Grameen, Google and MTN

This Monday, 29 June 2009 turned out to be a rather momentous day for anyone interested in ICTs for development in general, and mobile content-driven information services, in particular. The Grameen Foundation announced the launch of its AppLab in Uganda, realised in collaboration with the Internet search and services giant Google and the African mobile operator giant MTN.

The press release gives details of the 5 SMS-based mobile applications launched by the project. The  initiative is introduced in detail at the Official Google Africa blog by Rachel Payne, Country Manager, Uganda. The services fall with 3 silos:

  • Google SMS Tips, featuring: caterpillar
    • Farmer’s Friend, a searchable database with both agricultural advice and targeted weather forecasts
    • Health Tips which provides sexual and reproductive health information (family planning, maternal & child health, HIV/AIDS, STI/STDs, sexuality)
    • Clinic Finder, which helps locate nearby health clinics, their services and telephone numbers
  • Google SMS Search, an SMS-based mobile serach engine more consistent with Google’s original role.
  • Google SMS  Trader, which matches buyers and sellers of agricultural produce and commodities as well as other products. The services are SMS-based and designed to work with basic mobile phones to reach the broadest possible audience.

Needless to say, I have been very excited by the news about these new services. So, I took a couple of days to process and digest it. The news has caused quite a storm in the ICT4D community. The White African comments on the participation in this intiative of prominent stakeholders:

Beyond the applications themselves, what I find most compelling is how the Grameen Foundation collected such a high-powered group of partners. The list reads like a who’s-who of innovative mobile services and development in Africa with Google, MTN Uganda, Technoserve, Kiwanja.net, and BRODSI to name a few. It’s a mixture of for-profit businesses, local NGOs and non-profit tech organizations.

I agree that this is a significant observation. It is well recognised that the implementation of successful mobile services involves the syndication of mobile operators (in this case MTN) and content providers (read Google). But the success of mobile services implemented in Africa, largely depends on their the existence of a support network on the ground. The role the project of the Grameen Foundation, its Technology Centre in Uganda and their network of Village Phone Operators (VPOs) increase the potential for adoption of the new services.

Ken Banks explains how the Google SMS Tips service was tried through an AppLab/MTN “call centre” where  quieries from the users were received and short answers of maximum 160 characters were formulated. He brings up issues related to the process of development of IT services such as information behaviour* in developing countries, proximal literacy, HCI and prototyping. With regards to Google SMS Trader, which as a mobile commerce platform is of my primary interest to me,  Ken Banks that a “whole suite of technologies on which to base solutions, including J2ME, WAP, high-end smart phones, 3G and MMS” were considered during the development process and SMS was eventually chosen. Still, I think that the involvement of Google in services such as Farmer’s Friend and Trader opens up another frontline in the rivalry between Android and Symbian. The services provided by Google SMS Tips in Uganda are consistent with those introduced by Nokia Tools in India. The respective uptake and popularity of these services might hold the key to the eventual spit of the premium mobile contant market in the developing world between Android and Symbian.

* Information behaviour meaning, “the totality of human behaviour in relation to sources and channels of information, including both active and passive information seeking and information use”, definition by Wilson 2000.

Nokia Life Tools launched across India

Here are the latest developments regarding Reuters Market Light and Nokia Life Tools. According to the press release below Nokia Life Tools is being launched across India.

June 12, 2009

Ecosystem involving key government bodies, operators & industry players to address consumers’ information gaps.

Mumbai, India – After a successful pilot in the state of Maharashtra, Nokia today announced the commercial launch of its pioneering Nokia Life Tools service in India. The service will be rolled out first in Maharashtra in association with the Maharashtra State Agricultural Marketing Board (MSAMB). Designed specifically for the emerging markets, Nokia Life Tools is a range of Agriculture, Education and Entertainment services sharply addressing the information gaps of target consumers.

Today, Nokia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the MSAMB. Under this MOU, MSAMB will provide expertise in the areas of commodity prices from their network of 291 local mandis (marketyards). MSAMB will also have the opportunity to deliver relevant news, alerts on schemes and other information directly to grassroots consumers.
Speaking at the occasion, Shri. Ashok Chavan, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Maharashtra said, “We are happy that Maharashtra is the first state in India to go live with the Nokia Life Tools services in association with the state marketing board. Empowering our people with the right tools and facilities is a top priority for the State Government. I would like to congratulate Nokia for developing a unique and innovative service that has tremendous potential to improve lives and the livelihood of farmers and sub-urban consumers in Maharashtra.”
Shri Harshavardhan Patil, Hon’ble Minister for Co-operation, Marketing, Cultural Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs said, “It has been the Maharashtra state government’s endeavour to provide vital agri information tools for a progressive and an empowered farmer community. Nokia Life Tools is tailormade to positively impact farmers across the state. This MOU further strengthens MSAMB’s mandate to get the information directly to the farmers.”
Mr. D Shivakumar, Managing Director, Nokia India said, “Nokia Life Tools was a result of the entire ecosystem coming together and is ideally placed to usher in an information revolution impacting the daily lives of people. We extend our sincere thanks to MSAMB and our key partners for believing in and supporting our vision of ’empowering people and connecting them to the things that matter’. We believe this is the beginning of a historical journey that will take mobility to grassroots and make a positive difference to the lives of people in the areas that are crucial to them.”
The complete Nokia Life Tools solution will be available on the newly launched Nokia 2323 classic and Nokia 2330 classic devices, and will be later expanded to other Nokia devices.
Nokia Life Tools Partner Ecosystem and Services
Designed with deep insights gathered from target users, Nokia has collaborated with multiple partners across the Indian Government and private enterprises to bring together a rich ecosystem to deliver localised & personalised information directly to consumers’ Life Tools-enabled mobile devices.
Nokia Life Tools has a range of 3 primary services – Agriculture Services, Education Services and Entertainment Services
Nokia Life Tools Agriculture services:
The Nokia Life Tools Agriculture service offers consumers a choice of 2 plans. The basic plan, available across India at Rs 30/month, provides daily weather updates and relevant agriculture-related news, advice and tips. The premium plan, at Rs 60/month, will be available in 10 states, including Maharashtra, and provides the closest market prices for three crops chosen by the subscriber, as well as weather, news, advice and tips.
Nokia is collaborating with Reuters Market Light (RML), which was the exclusive provider for agriculture services in the successful pilot. Syngenta, Madison Research, Skymet and many others also form this ecosystem.
Nokia Life Tools Education services:
The Nokia Life Tools Education service, available throughout India, offers three components: Learn English, with basic, intermediate and advanced levels; Exam preparation, which offers students tips and advice for ICSE, CBSE and State Board-level exams mapped to the relevant curriculum; and General Knowledge, which gives subscribers useful information about the world around them. Each of the Education services will be offered at Rs 30/month. Information and content from multiple local and international companies will be aggregated and delivered to Nokia Life Tools by EnableM.
Nokia Life Tools Entertainment services:
The Nokia Life Tools Entertainment service at launch will include Astrology, News, Jokes, Cricket and ringtones, offered at existing market prices. The content is aggregated and brought to Life Tools by OnMobile.
Nokia Life Tools is hosted by OnMobile in India.
Jawahar Kanjilal, Nokia’s Global Head of Emerging Markets Services, said, “As mobile coverage increases to cover the millions of unconnected, Nokia – in India and in other emerging markets around the world – will work together with mobile operators, multiple government and private enterprises, and non-government organizations to empower millions by connecting them to better opportunities that have a positive impact on their daily lives.”
Nokia Life Tools was piloted in Maharashtra earlier this year before its commercial roll-out this month. The feedback from actual subscribers during the pilot that was concluded in April 2009 revealed that the service had a wide appeal, and connected with subscribers at both emotional and rational levels. On one hand, the service brought livelihood gains through relevant information such as market rates for farmers’ produce, greater awareness on market conditions, tips on weather, news, crop advisory, Learn English and General Knowledge. On the other hand, it enabled consumers to fill their information gaps by being better informed, save time and money, and improve their confidence and social standing.
Nokia Life Tools service will be expanded to select countries across Asia and Africa later in 2009 and beyond.
About Nokia Life Tools
Nokia Life Tools is a range of innovative Agriculture information and Education services targeted at non-urban consumers. Under the Nokia Life Tool Services, consumers can choose various types of services/information that they wish to receive. Services available are as follows.
– Nokia Life Tools Agriculture services aim to plug the information gaps and needs of farmers via their mobile devices, by providing information on seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, market prices, and weather (temperature, rainfall, wind conditions)
– Nokia Life Tools Education services aim to provide education and career services, including English language learning, General Knowledge, Exam preparations and results, and career information and tips
– Nokia Life Tools Entertainment services also has fun features for subscribers, including Astrology, News on current affairs, sports, politics and other matters, Jokes and downloadable ringtones
Nokia Life Tools services use an icon-based, graphically rich user interface that comes complete with tables and which can even display information simultaneously in two languages. Behind this rich interface, SMS is used to deliver the critical information to ensure that this service works wherever a mobile phone works, without the hassles of additional settings or the need for GPRS coverage.

via Nokia – ShowPressRelease.

Mobile Money

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Continuing the theme of alternative payment systems, and particularly the recent posts and discussions of the M-Pesa success story in Kenya, here is an interview panel on the topic, provided by TelecomTV’s programme Main Agenda.

The discussion took place during 16-19 Feb at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The panel features Mr. Gavin Krugel, Director Mobile Money, GSMA Association who articulates the major commitment of mobile network operator groups such as Orange, MTN and Vodafone behind financial service offerings. Network operators value the added value of such services alongside their standard offerings of SMS, voice and data.

He illustrates the scale of the opportunity offered to network operators in mobile money with the fact that 1 billion consumers in developing markets who do not have a bank account but do have a mobile phone. As a further illustration, a leading financial institution in India has 10 000 branches, while a leading network operator in India has 1 million distribution points. Through their network brands, innovation and secure technologies, mobile network operators are uniquely positioned to meet the opportunity and respond to the need for entry level financial services.

Mr. Vitalis Olunga, Head of International Services, Safaricom presents the opportunity of extending the M-Pesa mobile money concept of Safaricom, Kenya to include cross-border roaming services. He addresses the issue of regulation which came up in my posts from last week. Mr. Olunga tells how when M-Pesa was started in Kenya there was no regulation and the policy was developing post-factum. He sees a considerable challenge for the regulators in distinguishing between telecommunication and financial services. Additionally, mobile money increases the levels of competition in two highly regulated sectors in developing countries: the telecommunications and the financial sectors.

Mr. Hans Paulsen, CCO, Uganda Telecom shares his views regarding mobile financial services. He presents the opportnity present in Uganda to increase the current number of bank customers from 200 000 to 8 000 000 mobile phone users. The main application area Mr. Paulsen considers is that of remittences between urban and rural areas. With regards to regulation he stresses that success stories such as M-Pesa raise questions for telecom regulators and the banking sector regulators.

Mr. Patrick Kariningufu, Rwandatel emphasises that M-Pesa “was a great idea 4 years ago” and currently Rwandatel are looking for ways to enable people in the diaspora to transfer payments to African countries. Mr. Luckas Scoczkowski, CEO, Redknee presents their portfolio including re-sell airtime, emergency airtime, international remittances, and crossborder money transfers.

Mobile Money by M-Pesa: a need or a luxury?

In a recent post I noted the news about Safaricom’s profitability in the last year and exchanged some thoughts about the services, fair pricing and values provided by African mobile operators with Steve Song.

Eariler this week I came across the Round. The world. Connected. project of the Nokia Siemens Networks. In its Episode 2 finds Adrian Simpson visits Ethiopia and Kenya. Among the bonus features are an interview with Mr. Michael Joseph, CEO of Safaricom, interviews with users and providers of the M-Pesa service.

Mr. Michael Joseph introduces the needs and benefits of the M-Pesa service, emphasizing its value outside the main urban areas where banking infrastructure is rarely available. He recounts the origins of the M-Pesa service in 2006 within a microfinancing project and explains its current popularity. By saving users the hazards of carrying and transacting in cash M-Pesa allows its users greater degree of mobility and flexibility. Mr. Michael Joseph stresses that M-Pesa is a banking product. This complicates the service by imposing strict security requirements on the technology, five-year record keeping requirement, and customer rules.

Mr. Michael Joseph emphasises the importance of the distribution and support network for the M-Pesa service. He acknowledges that Safaricom’s ARPU is decreasing and explains Safaricom’s strategy to “lock-in” customers through the provision of a mobile banking service which can be perceived as a daily necessity. Furthermore, Safaricom counts 7500 franchises of M-Pesa stores where users of the service can receive personalised support and loyalty to Safaricom can develop as a result of the social capital exchanged in between the users and the representatives of the distribution network. Adrian Simpson gives faces to the M-Pesa distribution/ support network by interviewing an M-Pesa store owners.

In the video “The benefits of M-Pesa and mobile banking in Africa” Adrian Simpson shows documents used in the registration for use of the service and talks to an M-Pesa dealer who claims thousands of customers visiting his shop. The location seems fairly central and the customers appear “upmarket”. He mentions businesses and university students as his customers.

In “Interview with an M Pesa store owner in Africa” Adrian Simpson talks to Joseph, an M-Pesa agent working in somewhat more moderate surroundings. He emphasises customer service, technology assistance and personal attention as important considerations for keeping his customer base.

Towards the end of the interview with Mr. Michael Joseph the subject of regulation is brought up. Not surprisingly, Mr. Michael Josephs mentions that mobile operators in Africa are seen as “cash cows” and a reduced tax burden would help help their work. Still, I wonder how regulation can be used in order to provide mobile operators with the incentive to support, invest in and develop socially benefitial services. M-Pesa seems to facilitate the monetary transactions of socially excluded people and it appears to alleviate concerns related to security. As such, the service has required considerable investment in technology development and the set-up of a distribution network. With considerable set-up costs, the service has broken even only recently after subscribing 6 000 000 users in December 2008. Admittedly, Safaricom has invested in it with strategic self-interest, looking towards customer loyalty and “lock-in” opportunities. Still, I wonder how governments cound encourage mobile operators to behave in a similar way, rather than to follow more disruptive strategies. If we view mobile services like M-Pesa as social goods, rather than luxuries, how can regulation be used to have more of them?