Cellphones could create credit for Africa

It is naive to talk about e-commerce without mentioning its burgeoning mobile partner, m-commerce.

Because consumers generally carry their cellphones with them there has been a lot of speculation that the device could emerge as the next major way to access the Internet and to make or verify payments.

SMS is already widely used in the cellphone-frenzied Scandinavian countries to pay for everything from parking to bus tickets and even computer goods. But there is potentially another revolution pending.

“Effectively what we’ve seen happen is the convergence … of the mobile environment … and the fixed environment, and that’s the Internet,” says Brian Burns, a product marketing manager at Motorola.

Motorola took the lead some years ago by including a credit card slot on some of its models, but, Burns says, it was too early for the market.

It is widely cited that there are more cellphones than credit cards in Africa and it is believed that the phone could be used to pay for goods and services by debiting money from pre-paid or contract accounts. But will it take off?

Burns believes the prospects are positive.

“Firstly, big business is starting to rely heavily on new technologies like e-commerce, mobile telephony and the Internet. Secondly there’s a solid business case for return on investment. The third area is that mobile commerce will increase productivity,” he says.

This has in part been made possible by the much faster data speeds available from always-on, next-generation networks like general packet radio services (GPRS).

“The introduction of GPRS worldwide has gone very well, in terms of network carriers rolling it out. Now users have access to always-on data and this is where we see mobile applications taking off,” Burns says.

A premium SMS service is already being used innovatively in South Africa. Last month the South African Children’s Charity Trust broke new ground using SMS as a means for people to pledge money, which was deducted from their cellphone bill.

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