Imagine one day you walk into a kiosk to buy airtime cards and you are confronted with news that they are ‘out of stock’. With a rise in the value of a mobile and the need to keep talking a fulltime obsession, this would be devastating.
Before you unleash curses to the mobile service providers for their inefficiencies and insensitivity, the vendor informs you that airtime is being loaded electronically.
Now, stop imagining and welcome to a new phenomenon in the fast evolving telecommunications industry, where scratch cards would be a thing of the past.
Psitek Communications, the company that pioneered the successful Simu ya Jamii (community phone) has developed a solution that would facilitate electronic feeding of prepaid airtime.
Using a device called Timpa, that resembles its Adondo, Jembi and Rica payphones, the company plans to make it possible for more than 12 million mobile subscribers to load airtime without the intricacies associated with scratch cards.
“Scratch cards are an unnecessary headache and there is a global trend to phase them out,” Psitek Head of East Africa Region Ryan Callis told FJ.
He says the cost associated with printing scratch cards, distributing them particularly in remote areas and providing for their security is becoming increasingly unbearable for operators.
Also, scratch cards are not environmental friendly and its common to see most of them littered in streets.
But using Timpa, a wireless device that has a SIM card, a fully integrated keyboard and works via General Packet Radio Service, prepaid mobile subscribers would easily load airtime without buying a scratch card.
According to Callis, the devise works like Simu ya jamii.
Airtime vendors would be required to purchase the device at a subsidised price from Psitek.
How It Works
Psitek, a leading South African manufacturer of telecommunication solutions, would then provide the vendors with a bank account where they would deposit money whenever they want airtime loaded into the device.
Vendors can then sell (electronically feed) the airtime to mobile subscribers. The device produces a receipt indicating the amount of airtime purchased.
“This is a real time process because we have a system that would enable us scan deposits every ten minutes and know which vendor needs more airtime,” explains Callis. Psitek, he added, has partnered with service providers Safaricom and Celtel to purchase bulk quantities of airtime that would be stored in its server.
It also plans to partner with Econet and Telkom when they rollout services in the course of the year. The company has also entered into agreement with banks to be able to access the details of the account every ten minutes and know whenever a deposit is made.
Psitek intends to embark on a trial phase of the service that has taken two years to develop in a fortnight before deploying it throughout the country.
The company expects an initial modest reception of the service because the market is accustomed to scratch cards.
But there would be a drastic increase in embracing the new system once people understand it’s efficiency and effectiveness.
“We anticipate that 50 per cent of airtime in the country would be sold electronically by June next year,” said Callis.
He believes that in the next five years, scratch cards would be a thing of the past.
This has been the trend in other markets like South Africa, Zambia, Angola, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo where the service is in use. Trials are also ongoing in Tanzania.
East African Standard