More African mobile operators embrace dynamic billing for their voice services as they look to differentiate themselves from the competition

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In most African countries, mobile users are spoiled with attractive mobile promotion on voice services. In Kenya and Uganda, a price war has however left the mobile operators dubious on this approach being the right on. While African mobile operators try to retain their mobile users attention, differentiating their mobile offering from the competitors’ ones remains vital tool for them. Isabelle Gross spoke to Kevin Coleman, Business Development Director EMEA at Digitata and Hilton Goodhead, CTO at Rorotika Technologies about their dynamic billing product/platform for mobile voice services and theirs plans to launch a similar product/platform for data services.

The launch of the “Glo Flexi” tariff plan by Globacom at the beginning of September marks the entry of Digitata dynamic billing platform in the Nigerian telecoms market. According to Kevin Coleman, Globacom is the first mobile operator offering dynamic billing in Nigeria although MTN which is the largest mobile operator in Nigeria has a similar offer “MTN Zone” but the tariff plan is not operational in the country. Digitata dynamic billing platform gives the ability to a mobile operator to offer discounts on voice calls according the time of the day and/or the location of the mobile subscribers. In Nigeria for example, Glo Flexi tariff has been launched with an offering of up to 99% discounts on voice calls for its subscribers. It is still too early to forecast the uptake of the new tariff plan in Nigeria but Digitata has seen at the past some massive uptake to up 80% of the subscriber base in some African markets. The level and the pace of the uptake depend also on how the mobile operator decides to communicate the new offering to its subscribers and while some African mobile operators have relied on the traditional flyers, SMS and word of mouth to promote the new tariffs others have rolled more aggressive information campaigns like sending on the street “road warriors” in charge of explaining and educating subscribers on the benefits of the new tariff plan.

The Digitata’s dynamic billing platform is currently active across 16 mobile networks in Africa and the company is looking further to increasing it footprint on the continent. In a couple of week, there will be further launches in the Southern African region. Kevin Coleman explains further that the product is well suited for prepaid markets where calling costs remain high and customers are very price sensitive. The billing platform often sells well with the number two mobile operator in a country or the ones that want to be more innovative. There are also no limitations on the size of the mobile subscriber base. Digitata’s dynamic billing platform works with a subscriber base as small as 100,000 up to several millions. Although Kevin Coleman didn’t want to give too many details on the price of the billing platform, he added that the technology is competitively priced and that mobile operators can acquire a licence for a one-off fee or chose to make recurring payments based on the number of mobile users registered to the service. According to him, investing in a dynamic billing platform offers to mobile operators good returns on investment in terms of customer churn reduction, network congestion management and additional voice revenue from customers signing up for the service. Hilton Goodhead points out that it can help further mobile operators to reduce capital costs through a more streamlined utilisation of the existing network facilities.

I met Kevin Coleman last November at AfriCom in Cape Town and at that time he already told me that Digitata’s R&D team was working hard on expanding their dynamic billing platform to include mobile data services. Today, we have an official launch date: Q1-2012. According to him, the development of a dynamic billing platform for data services presented quite some technical challenges to overcome. He explains for example that once a data connection is established it is not obvious with what or who the dynamic billing interface interacts with. It could be the device only since most 3G phones keep looking for a connection or a human being holding the device. There were also issues to solve regarding the type of data and their prioritisation. Kevin Coleman is confident that this new product which is aimed at mobile operators in developed and emerging markets will quickly gain traction because across the world (and in Africa), mobile operators that have launched mobile Internet services on their 3G network face and will face more serious network congestions because of the growing number data hungry smartphones hooking up on their networks. Further today mobile data pricing models are pretty dull. They come either unlimited or capped and therefore a pricing model based on time and location will definitely provide a different way to sell mobile data services in Africa and in the rest of the world. 



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