Restoring sanity in mobile value added services

Telco based mobile value added services, while still relatively young have matured with pioneers targeting the mass market having started on the local opportunity about 15 years ago. The industry has had to learn and adapt on the fly as the uptake of mobile communication services saw hockey stick growth with the value of mobility becoming apparent and the cost of access dropping. The total addressable market for mobile value added services has grown in equal measure.

In the recent past, there have been complaints, mainly on the interwebs about how companies invested in the space in apparent collusion with mobile operators have siphoned millions from the mobile subscribers by way of premium services that deduct value from preloaded airtime, or sneaked onto postpaid bills. This would probably hold true about a decade ago when the industry was still finding its feet and the opportunity brought in both the good and the rouge operatives.

The rouges

Mobile number prefixes issues to mobile operators by the Communication Authority of Kenya can hold one million users and it is child’s play to generate a list of possible active subscriber phone numbers. The practice of list purchasing was also rife and considered “legitimate” business riding on the back of zero legislation and controls. In the past there was no “gatekeeping” and connecting to the operators was based on a valid license and active contract with the operator. SMPP – Short Message Peer to Peer, the standard industry protocol used to connect to operators for high volume messaging could then be exploited to send messages to unsuspecting consumers ether directly via operators or through grey routes that were available through cheap offshore connections mostly out of India. A curious mobile consumer would probably respond to the received message that was linked to a premium number, get charged and probably bundled into a subscription service. In the very early days, these premium bills would accrue and any mobile airtime top-up done would first be used to settle these bills and it was not uncommon to have your entire top-up consumed this way, leaving many a frustrated consumer whether or not they had requested the service in the right way or had been onboarded wrongly.

Checks and Balances
Faced with consumer backlash, certain things had to change. The accrued billing model was stopped and the mobile subscriber would now get a message alerting them that they had insufficient airtime to consume the service with the third party also duly notified of the subscriber status with a failed billing notification.

The operators introduced service delivery platform from telecom vendors Huawei and IBM. The service delivery platforms broker the communication between third party systems and core mobile operator infrastructure. The two key functions performed here are; first, to ensure double opt-in to subscription services; this is where a subscriber would be prompted to confirm that they are activating a service fully cognizant of the billing mechanics and frequency. Second is to ensure that third party providers only communicate back to subscribers who seeded the interaction.

Subscribers also have a part to play and a good starting point would be to engage service providers who adhere to standards as informed by the codes of conduct by industry bodies such as the global Mobile Marketing Association. As always do give the terms and conditions a quick read even with the checks in place.

Compliant service providers are able to provide end to end visibility on your interactions with them, with reporting to the mobile network operators and the regulator should the need arise.

The 1 thing you must do right on mobile

Three days to the much anticipated Saba Saba date (7th July 2014) millions of mobile consumers received a message from the Inter Religious Council of Kenya approved by the Communications Authority. The lash back on social media was expected but in my opinion misdirected as most of the “feedback” was laced with emotion due to the historical and current sensitivities surrounding the date. It does however offer the opportunity to dissect best practice when it comes to the mobile channel with education to consumers, businesses and even government as an imperative. Life is indeed mobile, with the device having become part of our daily lives. For any intrusion into this life to be tolerated; it must be anticipated and approved making consumer onboarding the most important element of any mobile strategy. Continue reading The 1 thing you must do right on mobile

The mobile ecosystem gravy train

Without a doubt the most awaited corporate report this month was that of local mobile operator Safaricom, and the results did not disappoint and pointed to the evolving and cash rich ecosystem that is mobile.The factors that lead and will continue to lead bottom-line growth for those invested in one way or another in mobile are in plain sight for the discerning. Continue reading The mobile ecosystem gravy train

The Betting Control and Licensing Board done right; two moves

Advances in technology will always see the morphing of previously offline services to the mobile channel due to its obvious ubiquity. Every industry has seen this shift, but with requisite structures done right to ensure service longevity and adherence to standards. The gaming sector however, seems to have been left behind and playing catch up with the result being; in my opinion a suppression of an industry that could actually deliver the much needed financial support for many social programs run by government and other well meaning Kenyans. The Betting Control and Licensing Board governs the authorization of lotteries and prize competition as well as eradication of illegal gambling activities in Kenya. It was established through an Act of Parliament (Chapter 131 Laws of Kenya of 1966). Here is how I would empower the board to meet its mandate using technology especially for mobile and online gaming. Continue reading The Betting Control and Licensing Board done right; two moves

A mobile strategy primer for your business

Mobile strategy for a business is not one of those things that you can cover extensively in one post, but I figured I could at least give you a primer on some of the things that you will need to think through when creating it.

With everyone jumping onto the mobile apps bandwagon, the decision makers will be forgiven for being clueless about where to begin or even what would provide best fit for their operations given that agencies are also not doing a good job of education.

Many are just getting to realize the impact of web and the mobile story may be a bit too heavy to digest. As the year comes to a close and we begin to strategize for the coming year for our business operations and looking at how to connect in more meaningful ways with our consumers, mobile needs to form a key component of digital strategy.

In the same way that the web ecosystem evolved, you may want to take baby steps to discover what mix works best for you as well as ease into the whole environment. This process includes looking to see if mobile is necessary in your customer experience and what assets are available for mobile consumption – think product information, alerts etc.

Perhaps the mobile strategy will be inward facing, looking to improve certain parts of your internal business. Strategy goes deeper than application and, mobisite deployments and has to link back to deliverables that impact your bottom-line in one way or another. Continue reading A mobile strategy primer for your business

Where to play in the mobile value added services ecosystem

It is always interesting to hear discussions around emerging technologies or industries that seem to capture the minds of everyone; from your barber to the executive at a FMCG company. More often than not, if the discussion is based on mobile technology, a lot of assumptions are made as to who plays what role and where the opportunity lies.

At the very top of the mobile ecosystem is the regulator CCK – Communications Commission of Kenya who are in charge of issuing licenses to mobile network operators, premium rate service providers – PRSP’s and content providers. The different tiers of licensing attract varied fees with the current cost of the PRSP and content provider license standing at Ksh 100,000, on top of an application fee of Ksh.10, 000. The license fee is annual and from year two, it  is based on a percentage of revenue generated by your firm with the lower limit of Ksh.100,000. Continue reading Where to play in the mobile value added services ecosystem