SMS company to expand in Africa

Digital Content

Mobile instant messaging service Mxit is to expand aggressively into Africa and Asia, as its growing subscriber base and financial stability allows it to flex its marketing muscle, founder and CEO Herman Heunis said.

Speaking at the Advertising and Marketing Association of SA meeting, Heunis said this expansion will largely be done in partnership with other companies and organisations, “...when and where it makes sense”.

Mxit would like to tie up with organisations that are willing to provide free educational services using the instant messaging service to Africans, he said. It would like to tie up with telecommunications operators that will allow the Mxit service to be carried free of charge.

Mxit also plans to team up with some big name social networking sites, which Heunis said will be announced later this year. A new version of the service will be launched in the coming months and a version that can work on Apple's iPhone is being beta-tested, he added.

Mxit is also considering going open source to allow a substantial amount of its development to take place in the broader community, Heunis said.

Mxit, which was originally an acronym for “message exchange”) now has about 11 million subscribers, of whom nine million are located in SA. The next biggest subscriber base is in Indonesia, with one million people, and subscribers are based in 123 countries in total.

Heunis said initially the majority of subscribers fell within the age group of between 18 and 21 years, but this has now shifted to between 19 and 25.

Mxit is able to tell what kind of phone its subscribers are using, where they are located and a host of other information that is useful for marketing purposes: “For instance, an advertiser can tell us that they want their message to be sent to someone within a certain age group, using a particular mobile phone, in a certain area.”

However, Heunis stressed that protection of personal information is absolutely essential and that Mxit does not give it out.

“Not even the police will get information without a proper subpoena... any social network that gives out this information freely is just asking for death,” he said.

On a typical day, Mxit receives about 25,000 new subscribers, its Web site gets 17 million log-ins and 250 million messages are transmitted over its network.

Its servers, which are located in Mauritius, Cape Town and Frankfurt, receive 25 million gigabytes of data and transmit 145 million gigabytes of data per day.

Heunis said the cost of sending messages via Mxit had been reduced drastically and, whereas in the past it used to claim that to send a message cost one cent, it is now a fraction of that. He also said mobile phone development was advancing at a rapid rate and described the devices as the “remote controls of the universe”.