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Gates foundation opens mobile payments software

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has released new open-source software for creating payment platforms that will help unbanked people around the world access digital financial services.

The software is designed to provide a reference model for payment interoperability between banks and other providers across a country’s economy. It is available now, free-of-cost, for software developers to adapt and banks, financial service providers and companies to implement. Information on the code can be found at mojaloop.io.

Current data from the World Bank shows that nearly two billion people in developing economies lack bank accounts and miss out on the benefits and security that basic financial services provide. Digital financial services, such as mobile money on cell phones, have rapidly expanded over the last two decades because they are convenient for users and cost-effective for companies aiming to serve new markets. In Kenya, an estimated 194,000 households have moved out of extreme poverty due in part to their access to M-Pesa, a mobile money platform, and users’ ability to save money more effectively. Digital financial services are now available in nearly 100 countries according to GSMA, an organization representing mobile network operators. However, global expansion of these services—especially to the world’s poor—has been hampered, in large part, by a lack of interoperability between digital financial services and payment platforms.

The new software, called Mojaloop, establishes a blueprint for connecting today’s financial services sector, and can be used as a solution to barriers that banks and providers seeking interoperability have traditionally faced. Delivering financial services to the poor is prohibitively challenging for many businesses because they struggle to invest adequately in complex technology while maintaining a commitment to low-cost, inclusive services. This has led to a prevalence of consumer payment options that are out of reach for many people in developing economies, or which limit customers’ ability to transact across products, banks and borders. These and similar challenges have dissuaded many companies from expanding into developing markets altogether.

Mojaloop can be used by financial institutions and commercial providers, to simplify and reduce the cost of developing inclusive payment platforms. It was designed to serve ultimately as a model for national payment switching systems that, for example, enable an individual’s digital wallet to connect with her employer’s bank account and her children’s school account to complete monthly transactions. The code can also be applied to adapt and improve existing services.

“Interoperability of digital payments has been the toughest hurdle for the financial services industry to overcome. With Mojaloop, our technology partners have finally achieved a solution that can apply to any service, and we invite banks and the payments industry to explore and test this tool,” said Kosta Peric, Deputy Director, Financial Services for the Poor, at the Gates Foundation. “Just as the internet revolutionized digital communication, open-source solutions like Mojaloop can spark innovation and democratize access to digital payments, empowering billions of new customers and driving massive economic growth in developing markets.”

Mojaloop (building off the Swahili word “moja,” which means “one”) was created in partnership with fintech developers Ripple, Dwolla, ModusBox, Crosslake Technologies and Software Group, using cutting-edge technology such as the Interledger Protocol, a solution for settling funds among multiple providers across their individual systems. It joins other promising digital financial software, but is the first model that can help extend interoperability from mobile money providers to any bank, merchant or government institution in a customer’s economy in a way that specifically meets the needs of the poor.

“Interoperability is necessary both for financial inclusion and market maturity, but it is a complex thing to achieve,” said Benno Ndulu, Governor of the Bank of Tanzania, the country’s national bank. “We are excited to explore implementation of this because of how it can simplify that capability for businesses and governments, and speed up access to financial services.”

“As we modernize and develop national and cross-border payments infrastructure in Africa, the only way to sustainably reach and serve the world’s unbanked communities is through new technologies,” said Chris Hamilton, CEO of BankservAfrica. “Our aim as an organization is to offer national payments platforms for the next generation of financial innovators and Mojaloop gives us some tantalizing new options for doing that in a way that integrates with the entire national economy.”

Developers can access the new software on GitHub, the world’s leading open-source development platform. It includes four components: an interoperability layer, which connects bank accounts, mobile money wallets, and merchants in an open loop; a directory service layer, which navigates the different methods that providers use to identify accounts on each side of a transaction; a transactions settlement layer, which makes payments instant and irrevocable; and, components which protect against fraud. The software will not be owned or implemented by the Gates Foundation. It will be used in the foundation’s ongoing work to promote the development of pro-poor, digital payment platforms.

Mojaloop was created by the Gates Foundation’s Level One Project, which is aimed at leveling the economic playing field by crowding in expertise and resources to build inclusive payment models to benefit the world’s poor. Alongside Mojaloop’s development, the project also brought together four mobile systems companies—Ericsson, Huawei, Telepin, and Mahindra Comviva—to develop an Open API for mobile money interoperability. These APIs will allow mobile money providers to integrate seamlessly with Mojaloop and products built from it.

“In order to achieve the full potential of mobile money, we must evolve today’s complex and often fragmented digital payments ecosystem,” said Mr. Shi Yaohong, President of Software Product Line at Huawei. “I look forward to exploring opportunities to leverage Mojaloop to help us achieve our goal of bringing digital financial services to all poor and low-income customers.”

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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