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Prism Holdings has piloted a project that allows prepaid electricity consumers to access their free basic electricity entitlement using a mobile phone. The pilot was carried out in Atlantis in the Western Cape, in conjunction with Eskom and an unnamed cellular network operator, says PayPoint Solutions director Andrew Turpin.

Free basic electricity is part of an Eskom tariff-based system providing free basic services (20KW of electricity a month) in terms of government's poverty tariff.

The pilot saw consumers send their meter number via cellphone. The information was rerouted to Prism TSS, which then validated the user on the Eskom database to verify the user qualified. A R20 token was then generated and a unique 20-digit number was sent via SMS. The user entered this number into his meter.

Turpin says the pilot involved about 100 people initially and expanded to 190 through word of mouth by the end of the five-month project.

He says in the current system people have to go to a vendor to receive a prepaid electricity token, which is inconvenient and costly, especially in remote areas. The system is also open to exploitation because many vending points operate in an offline environment. The mobile solution allows users to get tokens without having to leave home.

Turpin says although the project was a technical success, there are still some barriers to overcome before the project can be rolled out nationally.

The main one is getting the partners – Prism TSS, Eskom and the cellular operator – to finalise a commercial model for the project, since there are costs involved, not only in terms of infrastructure and support, but every malformed request also costs the system.

However, Turpin says the project has proved there is a degree of consumer readiness for this kind of transaction, that the technology is able to provide the right platform, and that the network operators are ready to take part in such projects.