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.

How mobile players will eat the media fraternity’s lunch

First, there was the Facebook paper that sent global media houses into panic mode as the access to their audience and resultant revenue streams came under threat from a company that has hitherto been considered an ally, driving readership through network effects. Locally, the switch from analogue to digital transmission has taken residence in the courts with the three musketeers (who control 87% TV market share and 80% radio audiences) managing to stay on air through a series of court decisions in their favor. The unfortunate prognosis of the events unfolding, paints a picture of a reactive and ill-informed strategy by the stakeholders of the African Digital Network whose take on co-opetition seems to be stalling the migration up and until they all individually get a proper sense of direction in-house. The play by the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and PANG was clear and it is surprising that the three biggest media houses as measured by both reach and revenue chose to sit in the sidelines almost as if betting on clout to maintain status quo.

As of Monday, 12th January…

A consortium made up of Kenya’s three leading media houses has placed orders to import digital TV set-top boxes that are set to retail for as low as Sh 2,000 each.The Internet-ready set-top boxes are expected to arrive in the country in the next three weeks.The Nation Media Group (NMG), Royal Media Services (RMS) and Standard Group (SG) have placed orders for 150,000 of the devices, which are set to be the cheapest free-to-air digital converters in the market.“These set-top boxes will be quite different from what is already there in the market. The devices will be sold at a one-off price of between Sh2,000 and Sh2,500,” said the NMG board chairman Wilfred Kiboro. The three companies, under the Africa Digital Network (ADN) consortium, also disclosed that a million more of the devices are expected end of March.

Continue reading How mobile players will eat the media fraternity’s lunch

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

4 challenges running Symbiotic in 2014

That information technology is the next frontier for many African economies, promising to deliver big development payloads is not lost on anyone who has been reading the opportunity narrative of the Silicon Savannah, Silicon Cape and the various embodiments of the wave. Trying to borrow a playbook from other markets may not work due to the unique challenges that one may face in Africa.

At the close of 2013, I took time off to reflect and strategize on what challenges the marketplace will present for my companies this year. Some, like access to capital are the ever constant companions for any growing enterprise but others I see as coming to the fore as many verticals within the IT sector mature. Whether as a services company doing integrations or pushing own product, this is my take on what many C-level executives will have to deal with to remain competitive and in business over the next 12 months. Continue reading 4 challenges running Symbiotic in 2014

Rethinking education in a connected Kenya

The business of education has many players from the outfitters who kit our children every school term, the book maker who churns out thousands of ruled books for note taking, the schools who offer varied curricular, unions that ensure the rights of our teachers , the education institute that plans out our syllabus to government – who by looking at the many plans fronted in the battle for votes want to make it (the learning bit ) free in its entirety.

The new players in this ecosystem, who combined should change our model of knowledge dissemination are mobile and internet service providers who are often times synonymous, device manufacturers ,mobile application developers and government. Continue reading Rethinking education in a connected Kenya