The mobile Internet will do more for Africa than live 8!

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On a day when Africa is in the news .. here is a different perspective based on my own experience. It reflects my views – especially the ability of individuals to make a difference when they have access to knowledge.

I saw this phenomenon first in India in the early 90s when I was living in India. At that time, India was in the throes of a ‘cable’ revolution. Mind you, there was no ‘ministry’, which had sanctioned this. It was a grassroots phenomenon. I remember the local video shop owner suddenly started adding ‘cable’ to his offerings. And he was not the only one. Every colony(a group of buildings) had it’s own network. The legality of it all was suspect (although today it’s all pretty much corporate and legal).

The point is though, people were getting access to information(and this was not the government sanctioned media). Even in the smallest village – you could see ‘MTV’ – which was a bizarre phenomenon in some ways. More importantly, the villages had yellow PCO booths. So, you could call anywhere in the world.

Again more connections – more information.

This was early 90s. Today India is a force to reckon in technology

Is there a connection between people, technology and wealth?

I believe that there is … Which brings us to Africa ..

Lets contrast two bits of news.

A couple of weeks ago, Simpay (www.simpay.com) collapsed.

Simpay was a European mcommerce initiative. Typically on a grand scale – top down – with the big operators all ‘solidly’ behind it. It collapsed like a pack of cards when one operator pulled out. The end was so quick that many did not believe it.

But mcommerce itself if far from dead.

And where does it survive?

You would not guess – but it’s Africa.

According to the feature(www.thefeature.com) (no link exists – so I don’t know the author)

Although many Western research companies still stick to the idea that mobile usage remains the preserve of the relatively well off, many countries in Africa are showing through prepaid, handset sharing and the sheer desire to own a mobile despite having very little income, that mobile service can reach all parts of the populace. The great advantage for m-banking in African countries is that the conflicts between the stakeholders simply don’t exist in the same way as in Europe and the West. Most of those players have little or no current business in the area, and see m-banking as an opportunity, rather than a threat, to their business models.

The lack of existing vested interests(and for that matter an existing ecosystem itself) is creating a whole new value chain.

A company called celpay offers mobile phone-based virtual bank accounts with features like account transfers, bill payments, cash deposits etc. It has created a large retail base (shops, petrol stations etc) who will accept these transactions.(cellpay uses a solution from a South African company called fundamo

Also according to the feature

Celpay has also developed successful m-banking business services. This includes mobile phone-based order entry with cash on delivery payment functionality. Current users include Coca-Cola, breweries and a cement manufacturer. In DRC (Democratic republic of Congo) alone, there were over 80,000 transactions per day on the Celpay system in November 2004.

Read that last statistic again .. 80,000 transactions per day! – in the democratic republic of Congo!!

There is another big boom in voucherless topups

The agent simply enters the subscriber’s mobile number, amount of credit needed and the agent’s pin and the subscriber’s account is topped up.

The irony is .. the only other place where m-commerce is booming well is in the worlds most advanced markets for mobility – Japan and Korea. For example – in Japan, NTT docomo and Sony are running the felica trials

There are not many subjects where you can mention Japan and Democratic republic of Congo in the same context.

Ahh .. but you say .. Africa is not China(or Japan, or India or Singapore)

There is no culture of entrepreneurship.

That’s not quite true

According to GEM(Global entrepreneurship monitor) ..

Uganda has the highest Total Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) of all countries participating in GEM 2003. The TEA of 29.2 indicates that almost every third adult Ugandan is an entrepreneur. In comparison, the World average is only 8.8.

So .. it’s possible

This leads me to make the statement .. the mobile internet(and m-commere) will do more for Africa than anything else(commendable as these efforts always are). In fact, m-commerce is just the medium. The real people doing the work are the people of Africa.

Soon, they will learn from the Philippines and get rid of governments that do not serve them. Information will be impossible to contain

If Bill Gates’ dream was to have a PC on each desk running Microsoft software .. then EVERY person in the world could well have a mobile device(although they may not have a PC)That could do wonders for many countries in Africa – both commercially and politically.

video shortcodes: how do they work

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I have been researching this topic now for the next version of OpenGardens and Nick Ris presents a fascinating insight on this subject

I have reproduced a section from his site(full link below)

In the context of openness .. video short codes are fascinating – and in a sector of the industry which IMHO is on the verge of take off

“3G Video Short Codes” vs. “3G Video Streaming using the Data Channel”

In the 3G environment, it is possible to view Video Content using two alternative channels:

Using the data channel – “3G Video Streaming”

This is in effect offering a WAP-like portal (e.g. the 3UK portal, Vodafone Live!, Orange Kiosk etc., or a Java application that acts as a portal), through which an end user can navigate in order to eventually find the content they are looking for. Network operator portals use the data channel.

Using the circuit switched video call channel – “3G Video Short Codes”

This is the MX Telecom Video Gateway offering as described above, which uses the circuit switched video call channel and allows the end user to view video content simply by dialling a number and pressing the video call button on their handset.

The benefits of the video call channel over using the data channel are clear:

Simplicity – Dialling a short code and pressing one button is much simpler than having to type in or go to a URL and navigate through a portal, to eventually find the relevant content, and then download it on to the phone.

Per Minute Billing – This is not available when using the data channel (which is based purely around “per event billing”), but obviously is available for Video Short Codes, which offer both per minute billing and drop charges, as well as free-phone and standard rate tariffs.

Return Video Path – The camera in the end user’s phone is always passing a live camera feed back, which can be used for many applications – for example, dating services and video conferencing.

Quality of Service – Guaranteed bandwidth is available for a video call, unlike video streaming, ensuring quality of service. This means that, as opposed to video streaming, the video call picture quality will not degrade when a cell gets busy.

Digital Rights Management – There are no DRM issues associated with video content accessible through the MX Telecom Video Gateway as content cannot be saved or recorded on to the 3G handset. If content providers wish to allow users to access content after viewing it on their handset, they can send the end user a URL (via an SMS or WAP Push message) through which to access the content.

No need to download a viewer – Some companies have written Java Applications to stream content to an end user’s 3G phone. The main problem with this lies with the fact that the end user needs to order the Java application (usually via SMS), download it onto the phone, save it, install it and finally load it. This cumbersome procedure is not user friendly and can be very confusing to the average consumer – most of whom fail to successfully install and use such Java applications.

With video calls, there is no such problem – again, the user simply dials a number on their 3G phone and all the functionality that a Java player would offer is available through the menu of options (IVR) available during a video call.

full link HERE