Mobile Commerce Becoming Reality in East Africa


Imagine this…you’re are stuck in a jam on your way to the Airport. Your mobile phones lights up and beeps with a message: ‘Flight to London delayed by 40 minutes. Confirmed seat 21A.Upgrade to First Class available. Confirm Yes/No.’

You sigh with relief and your loyalty towards your airline grows. In another part of town, Poppy a banker is about leave office. She uses her mobile phone for a quick check of her bank balance and the local weather forecast for the evening. Poppy is due to meet her buddy Mary for tea.

At 6.00pm she receives a text message telling her that the Nandos restaurant just across her office has ‘Happy Hour’ when bites are free. Poppy has given her mobile service provider permission to relay such texts.

She may also opt for window-shopping. She checks to see which shops have sales and special offers, and discovers that a shoe shop is offering half the price on a brand she loves. She does not know the shop but with a few clicks on her mobile phone, she’s able to precisely obtain the direction from where she is!

This is becoming a reality. In this era, powerful forces and technologies have come towards us with unprecedented speed. Penetration speed has exceeded all expectations.

Annual sales of mobile phones have surpassed sales of TVs and PCs. There are over 1 billion mobile telephone users in the world. In Africa alone, there are now over 62 million mobile subscribers. The number of mobile subscribers in the world is already above that of PC owners and will surpass that of households owning a TV.

Essentially, mobile commerce or m-commerce refers to any transaction with a monetary value that is conducted via a mobile telecommunications network.

This represents all commerce transactions both in business-to-business and business to consumer.

It is billed to drastically change the way we live, react, interact, buy, play and the way businesses operate. Information and content, be it text, data or images will be leveraged to deliver customised services in a manner unseen before.

m-Commerce is a result of convergence between two or more technologies such as wireless communications and Internet. It is all about the explosion of applications and services that are becoming accessible from Internet-enabled mobile devices. It involves new technologies, services and business models. It is quite different from traditional e-Commerce.

Mobile devices have opened doors for new applications and services. They follow you wherever you go, making it possible to access the Internet while walking down the street with friends and family or while driving, looking for a nearby restaurant or gas station.

These mobile devices are becoming more personal too. These days, mobile phones and PDAs can track our location. They are soon replacing our wallets and credit cards. One day, they may very well turn into intelligent assistants capable of anticipating many of our wishes and needs, such as automatically arranging for taxis to come and pick us up after business meetings.

Emerging technologies

Currently m-commerce is in place in Europe and Asia . Faster wireless access and packet switched technology offers fast and fulltime (always on connectivity).

Upgrading of the network infrastructures to 2.5 or 3G will enable a bigger range of bandwidth intensive applications.

A number of handset devices are being developed to cater for customer needs.

These are PDA -mobile phone combinations smart phones with micro browsers and others with enhanced functions and video capabilities. Display and input capabilities are expected to improve overtime.

The author is an ICT and telecom consultant.

Source: P. Muthigani
East African Business Week