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Smartphones change shape of cellphone banking

The recent Mobility 2012 research study conducted by World Wide Worx and First National Bank has revealed that most cellphone banking is still conducted via text messages. The study further revealed that the most popular cellphone transaction is airtime purchases.

The shape of cellphone banking is changing rapidly, as the capabilities of phones themselves change, according to a new study released today.

The Mobility 2012 research study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the backing of First National Bank, shows that while most cellphone banking is still conducted via text messages, more than a third of customers of these services are now also using phone browsers for their banking.

Only 5% of cellphone bankers exclusively use phone browsers for the purpose, but a further 36% use the browsers as well as text-based services like USSD and SMS.

‚”The growing sophistication of phones both feature and smartphones is resulting in new options and opportunities for customers of cellphone banking,‚” says Ravesh Ramlakan, CEO of FNB Cellphone Banking. ‚”The customer is driving the pace of innovation in banking, and our job is to be available to them where they want to transact.‚”

According to the study, the single most popular transactional service in cellphone banking remains airtime purchases, with 74% of customers using it for this purpose, and only 15% paying accounts via their phones. Phone-based purchases via the phone of physical products that are delivered to the buyer are made by only 4% of urban cellphone users, but by no rural users whatsoever.

‚”A big opportunity still lies dormant in mobile commerce,‚” says Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx. ‚”But virtual business will always need infrastructure, and that remains the barrier to cellphone purchases of physical product.‚”

Along with airtime purchases, remaining the core of mobile commerce, more than half of cellphone banking customers also transfer airtime, with rural users (69%) far more likely to do so than urban users (51%). The same gap exists in mobile purchases of pre-paid electricity, with 33% of rural cellphone banking users and only 21% of urban users doing so via their phones. The pattern is repeated in sending money to other individuals via cellphone banking: 44% rural, 34% urban.

‚”The popularity of money and airtime transfers via cellphone banking is one of the clues to why stand-alone mobile money transfer services have not taken off in South Africa,‚” says Goldstuck. ‚”There simply is no desperate need for them, as there is in other African countries.‚”

The urban-rural divide also reveals itself in other areas, most notably in the proportion of pre-paid users. While 80% of urban users have pre-paid accounts, the proportion of rural pre-paid users is 94%. The average phone spend of contract users is R387 per month, more than double that of rural users, who spend on average R165 a month.

‚”This highlights the priority that needs to be placed on providing services that both simplify the lives of all, and reduce their costs of using financial services,‚” says Ramlakan. ‚”While cellphone banking brings convenience and savings to urban customers, it can change the lives of rural users.‚”

The Mobility 2012 project comprises two reports, namely The Mobile Consumer in SA 2012, comprising cellphone usage and banking trends, and The Mobile Internet in SA 2012, exploring online and data trends. It is based on face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of South African adult cellphone users living in cities and towns, conducted in June 2012.

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Phone with 60-day battery

Mi-Fone has announced an affordable smartphone that it says offers up to 60 days of battery life when in standby mode.

Many Africans want to access the Internet but cannot afford a smartphone. In addition, the greatest challenge experienced with smartphone users is that the battery runs out quickly.

In a bid to provide solutions to these challenges, Mi-Fone the first African mobile devices brand has launched the Mi3000 model. This is Africa’s first smart phone with a 60-day battery standby time and using EDGE connectivity.

The Mi 3000 handset boasts a candy bar design with a 2.8‚” touch screen and keypad. Just like all other Mi-Fone handsets, the Mi 3000 also comes with Mi-Apps with some free content that can be downloaded, and Opera Mini as default browser. Other features include a phone directory to store up to 1 000 contacts, 1GB of on-board memory and 256MB RAM.

Commenting on the new entrant in the market, Mi-Fone CEO Alpesh Patel said that the Mi 3000 has the upper hand of long battery life, which is one of the greatest challenges for most competing brands.

‚”A lot of consumers are using their device to access the Internet and resource hungry applications, which in tern quickly drains the battery. The Mi 3000 addresses these concerns in a cost effective manner.‚”

Mi-Fone has already differentiated itself from other low-cost handset manufacturers with its focus on music, local talent and its new ‚”Mi-Apps Java‚” store. This will be instrumental in linking the acquisition of local music in capturing revenue streams, which are often lost to piracy.

The Mi 3000 also comes packed with a list of additional features including a 2.75GHz processor, dual-SIM support, a 2MP camera and Bluetooth connectivity.

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Airtime for apps

Vodacom and Research In Motion have announced that Vodacom customers in South Africa can buy apps on the BlackBerry App World by charging the transaction to their contract or prepaid account.

The new billing service will enable Vodacom customers to buy apps with a seamless experience. Vodacom customers will also be offered the flexibility of charging in-app purchases to their regular bill or deducting the costs from their prepaid account, which allows digital goods to be purchased without interrupting the app experience.

‚”We have worked closely with RIM to make this functionality available for our BlackBerry smartphone customers. Once again, Vodacom is improving the customer experience by unlocking the power of its network and services,‚” said Prins Mhlanga, Managing Executive of Vodacom Digital Media.

‚”We’re delighted that Vodacom’s BlackBerry smartphone customers will be able to purchase apps on BlackBerry App World and conveniently charge them to their regular phone bill from Vodacom. By working closely with Vodacom, we are able to offer customers easier access to tens of thousands of apps ranging from productivity to entertainment,‚” said Bob Bose, Regional Managing Director at RIM.

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