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Organising payments industry is ‘like herding cats’

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A revolution is underway in the global payments infrastructure and that makes it a necessity to re-design systems to keep up with the “payments Joneses”

According Chris Hamilton, new chief executive officer of BankservAfrica, speaking at the recent Payments Association of South Africa (PASA) International Payments Conference 2016, discussions about payments infrastructure design are like discussions about plumbing and sewerage: “We all really need it but we don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it.”

He described streamlining the payments industry as being “like herding cats”.

Hamkilton was chief executive of the Australian Payments Clearing Association Limited (APCA) for the past 10 years, allowing him insight into the approaches of different markets when redesigning payments to keep up with the demands of business and consumers.

“As an industry, we need to find a way to talk about this needed, fundamental change and do so systematically. System design doesn’t happen by itself, it needs intense collaboration.”

“To meet the future payment needs of our community and our economy, payments businesses need to approach payment system modernisation empirically, inclusively, holistically but above all collaboratively. The design process really matters.”

Payments systems vary between and even within countries. They are complex, and serve different agendas and business needs. One only has to look at the variation from PayPal to Bitcoin, Visa to Mastercard; and the range of secure options offered by individual banks.

Given the complexity, infrastructure redesign is costly, complicated and highly contentious, and thus only takes place every 20 or 30 years.

“The time for a new South African design, however, is now,” says Hamilton. “Otherwise, the SA economy will not have the basic plumbing it needs for the future. The world is undertaking a step-change in national payments infrastructure, from overnight batch with basic data to real-time, data-rich, flexible and layered. South Africa must join the trend, or be left behind.

“In doing this, all the hard questions are not technological, they are social and political.  What will our users and our economy need in 10 years’ time?  How do we resolve all the competing business and political agendas to make sure they get it?  What is the role of the national regulator?  There is much to learn from mistakes and successes overseas.”

Hamilton talked the delegates through various global “adventures in international payments modernisation, looking at what the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States of America have done towards renewing their payments infrastructure.

The results, he says, show the intricacies and difficulty in getting all parties – and agendas – synchronised.

“Since time immemorial, we have been expecting our customers to adapt the way they pay to our available ‘set of rails’. So if you want to buy something at the shop, you get out your card; if a business wants to pay a supplier, it must do so by scheduling a payment with its bank or, heaven forbid, write out a cheque the supplier must then present to another bank. There is nothing wrong with this; it is just the way the world looks right now. But will this do for the digital economy of the future where other aspects of our lives are fully online, real time and automated?

“We need to start thinking creatively now because new systems take a very long time to develop – at a minimum five years. This is not because of the technology; it’s because of all the competing business and policy interests. We must work out how our payment system is going to be used in 10 years’ time.”

This approach calls for a rigorous, inclusive process. The USA – the world’s largest and complex payment market – is the least designed because it is just too big. There are 13 000 payment institutions with millions of interested parties.

“The Federal Reserve Bank has taken on the job of trying to rationalise the USA’s payment system. They have in the last two years published their own consultation papers and received thousands of responses. They put together a task force of 300 people – made up of consumer and business representatives, service providers, consultants, and banks – to have a massive, industry-wide discussion happening in a public way.”

Australia’s New Payments Platform (NPP) felt like an overnight success because, in 2013, the Central Bank came out with a strategic review that compelled the industry to build a real-time payment system, he said. But the industry had already done most of the thinking work, starting in 2008. So the payments community was able to put together a well-designed proposal very quickly.

“So in 6 months we actually put together a community of bankers and published a proposal for a real time payment system which became the new payments platform.

“My view of the world is that, there is no substitute for the industry players doing it themselves, together. I’m accustomed to hearing, over my 15 year career in this game, banks saying: ‘We don’t like to work with other banks because it’s too high risk and never works.’ Yes it is high risk, but also high return. Co-created networks are always better than government-built networks or compliance-driven outcomes.  Only the participants know how the whole thing really works.”

The base of good payment systems is empirical research that is “inquisitive, inclusive, and intentional,” plus gets business to lead.

“Streamlining the payments industry is still like herding cats. But a business-led process can be powerful and galvanising. It can also radically reduce the cost base, while revolutionising the industry.”

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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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