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Africa’s most widely distributed information platform is the cell phone. Growth continues to be spectacular but all operators are looking for ways to add to their revenues. Text messaging services have begun to develop - anything from agricultural prices in Uganda to advertising for clubbers in South Africa - and are beginning to find a significant user base willing to pay premium rates for certain kinds of information. Experience elsewhere suggests that services should be actionable and combine timeliness with mobility. This week News Update offers three case studies as food for thought.


Kenya’s Mobile Planet provides value-added SMS services to cellular provider Safaricom and is looking to expand into other African countries. It has a premium rate licence from the regulator CCK and works with content operators to provide its services. For example, it works with the Nation newspaper group to provide a headlines service to cellphone subscribers. There is a standard charge of KS5 for a text message of this kind.

According to Mobile Planet’s CEO Karanja Macharia:"The elections really opened people’s eyes." Heavy demand during the final part of the election actually crashed the networks. Network congestion may yet become an issue again as the networks are regularly congested at 4pm in the afternoon as people arrange their social life for the evening.

Revenue is split somewhere between 60/40 to 80/20 in favour of the network operator but volumes are high. The content provider signs the contract with the cell phone provider and Mobile Planet handles the delivery.It can regularly run as much as 3-400,000 messages a month and with sports, this can increase ten-fold. Over 5 months the company has generated around KS4 million worth of traffic. Kencell offers a similar service to content providers using French-based Gemplus and local company Three Mice.

It has also been experimenting with other applications. It recently launched a football game but as Macharia told News Update:"It was difficult to get users to understand that they could use their phone for something as interactive as playing a game. They’re so used to just receiving calls and information"

It is currently also looking to get a licence for SMS gambling and is talking to the financial sector about online banking. It has a test system which it is showing to some of the smaller banks who have shown interest in it. The key issue is one of trust so it is proposed that customers using the service will buy SMS airtime from the bank. Mobile Planet estimates that the initial market for one of the smaller banks might be between 500-1000 customers.

So where does Mobile Planet hope to expand?:"We’re having active discussions with several companies in East Africa and a company in Asia."


Mobile services and content are slowly coming of age. As predicted by Forrester Research - services that combine content with communication are succeeding - and the most successful are actionable and combine timeliness with mobility. These guiding principles are shown to be the common attributes in Grapevine Interactive case studies from two completely different industries in South Africa ­ Banking and Beverage.

The first case study is from a medium sized private bank targeting top tier clients whose accounts combine Internet banking with a credit card account. The Bank was looking for a cost effective, innovative way to reduce the risk of credit card fraud and provide clients with additional peace of mind. Key to preventing fraud is the ability to detect a transaction as fraudulent as it occurs - and the person best qualified to make this judgement is the client himself.

An automated SMS transaction alerts service provided an ideal solution. When a transaction is processed against a particular credit card number, the card’s owner is notified of the transaction via an SMS. The client has the opportunity to phone the bank immediately if the transaction is fraudulent, or the amount incorrect.

This service meets all the requirements of a successful mobile service ­ it needs to be immediate and to reach the client wherever she is - and the alert is immediately actionable by call to the bank. In addition it combines communication (mobile notification of a transaction event) with content (the transaction amount).

Using this service the Bank has significantly reduced the risk of credit card fraud. One client received notification of a fraudulent transaction whilst playing golf. Returning to the car park he found his car broken into and his credit card missing. Due to the alert service he was able to stop the card before further abuse occurred.

One of South Africa’s largest beverage brands wanted to run a promotion that offered consumers the chance of winning an instant prize on purchase of a beverage and a Grand prize at the end of the promotion.

A text Œn win SMS competition service provided the answer. Millions of promotion bottles were put into the market each with a 6-digit number under the bottle top cap. Labels on each bottle and advertisements encouraged purchasers to "SMS and WIN". To enter the competition, purchasers SMSed the 6 digit number to a competition line. Entrants were informed within seconds of purchase as to whether they had won an instant prize or not. All entrants were entered for the main draw.

Again, this service meets the requirements of a successful mobile service ­ clients needed to be able to enter at the point of purchase (any pub), the offer was actionable and the response immediate. The service enabled communication between the promoter and the purchaser for the exchange of content (competition entry, prize notification).

Over 1.7 million consumer entries and were received over the 3 month duration of the competition, with an average entry rate of 8 entries per person.

Grapevine Interactive is an interactive messaging company in South Africa. Grapevine’s Enterprise Messaging Platform (GEMTM) allows businesses, agencies or media owners to deploy interactive messaging-based services and campaigns across various electronic channels.


The marketing of South Africa’s highly popular youth dominated clubbing scene has, within the last year, become dominated by innovative bulk Short Message Service (SMS) technology, with one of the largest such entertainment promotional companies, now relying on the medium for the bulk of its instant venue promotions.

"Johannesburg Live (JHBLive) is one of South Africa’s largest night club entertainment companies, and acts as a promotional agent for a large number of nightclubs in the greater Johannesburg area, says Derek Fingleson, managing director of Mobile Internet Gateway, (MIG) which provides bulk SMS messaging technology to over 80 percent of the clubbing scene in the country.

The SMS Systems cater to an extremely technologically savvy market, most of whom have cell phones, and who are now used to receiving their information instantly, says Fingleson. "Very often the decision to go to a venue, or attend a concert or event, is made on the spur of the moment, and the most effective way of reaching this target market is through an instant SMS service."

JHBLive director, Michael Balkind, confirms that the instant messaging ability of the MIG service holds the key to his company’s marketing success: "In the young market sector we cater for, we have a zero delay in reaching our target audience," Balkind says.

"In addition to being very reliable, the MIG software is extremely user friendly, and also allows two way message traffic," Balkind says. This enables patrons to respond instantly to event notifications with their names and surnames, and thereby either reserve places at an event, or qualify for discounts and special offers.

The SMS system, works with MIG software, which is loaded onto the client server. The program integrates with the client database, and from there, the individualised SMS messages are automatically generated and sent according to preset schedules.

"Once the SMS has been prepared, it is integrated with the necessary field changes which ensure that each message is individually personalised according to recipient, it is encrypted and transmitted via the internet to MIG’s gateway," Fingleson says.

Once at MIG, the data packet is unencrypted and then distributed via secure dedicated lines to the three South African cellular service providers for instant transmission. The return message path from the cell phone users is identical except in reverse.

"This ensures that our clients database always remains in their possession, and is never transmitted to outside parties," says Fingleson. There is also no extra equipment or hardware necessary to generate the bulk SMS messages - all that is required is a computer and an Internet connection.

The software package is totally locally owned and developed, and is thus available at an extremely competitive pricing structure. "MIG is able to offer the service at this cost effective rate because we have no foreign licensing fees to pay," explains Fingleson. In addition, the locally developed nature of the software means that there are always support engineers on hand, and that any future updates or additions will be fully integrated with the original package.