Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Features of the week:
The zeal to optimize the Value Added Services (VAS) by Nigerians has turned Short Messaging Services (SMS) into a money transfer channel, reports REMMY NWEKE.
Financially upset student, Chijioke Ikegbu, was still perplexed when he left the faculty building at the Institute of Management Technology (MIT), Enugu, in the heart of Eastern Nigeria recently.
He needed to pay up his semester examination fees which balance stood at N5,000, (about $50) to enable him partake in the semester exams due in 48 hours. The exam now two weeks ahead of schedule was to avert intended strike by the school’s lecturers over better working conditions.
And making a call with only credit of N15 left in his Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) handset, was suicidal because by the time he finishes with salutation and raise the main issue of the call, it must have ran out.
So, he decided to send an electronic short message known as Short Messaging Service (SMS) to an uncle in Lagos, Mr. Clinton Mechee. SMS within the nation’s telecom industry has become very popular with the deregulation and coming of GSM in the last five years.
Soon after, his uncle called to reassure that the required amount would be sent to him within 24 hours.
What it is …
Experts at United Kingdom-based Hairydog Guide to mobile phones, said SMS is part of the GSM specification that has since become very fashionably used among subscribers, even on Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) platform. Often referred to as ‘Texting’ mostly among teenagers, it is intimate, personal yet non-permanent and popular with the networks because it is seen as profitable.
Made up of text of upto 160 characters, SMS is sent to the phone whether or not engaged in a call. The effect of this is to give mobile phone the facilities of an alphanumeric pager, but with confirmed delivery of messages. Unlike with a pager, the system holds undelivered messages, and resends them at intervals until receipt is confirmed.
By pressing on the menu of your phone and scrolling to ‘messages’ subscribers could send SMS by locating the submenu for writing messages or writing new messages. Type in messages via the phone’s keypad and on completion, could now be sent by pressing the ok/yes button. Followed by the entering of the recipient’s number, press Ok.
In Nigeria, SMS are still restricted between GSM and CDMA network operators, as GSM subscribers could only send SMS to one another and the same applies to CDMA subscribers too.
SMS has evolved into other information and communication technologies (ICT) such as being sent from Internet connected computers or vice visa, mainly obtainable in advanced countries.
SMS money transfer:
The following day, Mr. Clinton bought three recharge cards of N2,000 denomination, making up to the value of N6,000, he scratched out the silver panel and send the recharge numbers revealed to Chijioke, with the instruction to approach any Commercial Telephone Operator (CTO) within the school vicinity and offer to sell the numbers for an exchange of cash.
Luckily, Chijioke did as directed although he was able to sell below the N6000 value as he was paid N5,550, a deduction of N150 per card, yet he was very excited at the speed with which the message was delivered, he became sure of taking the exam with his classmates after all.
Ordinarily, Chijioke should have embarked on a night journey to Lagos, coupled that he needed to rework his lectures for the semester before the examination which meant he would have been out of school at least two or three days to make a return trip to Lagos.
Aside from putting himself to risk despite the campaigns of the Road Safety Corps against such trips, he would be exhausted for some days to come. No doubt his presence in Lagos would have put the uncle under stress and consequently spending more money. That is, providing Chijioke with the return fare, the actual exam fee and then some pocket money for upkeep.
According to Mr. Clinton, he was bound to spend not less than N12,000, approximated $100, if Chijioke had come to Lagos State in the South West, personally.
Merits and demerits:
He also said that the stress was not there as he took his time to go to the bank, withdrew some money to buy the recharge cards even at the bank before sending the details.
Mr. Clinton, who said he has used that new method which he described as ‘SMS money transfer’ to send money to some relatives during Christmas celebration last December, noted that even what banks charge to send little money was what precipitated the ideology in the first place which is nowhere near what the CTOs would eventually deduct which never exceeded N200.
For him, this is the safest and fastest because by sending the digits cum ‘money’ to the potential recipient, he receives the message directly and safely, as long as the network is active.
Further, Mr. Clinton explained that with his little expertise, one demerit of this trend is that if the numbers are discovered or get into the wrong hands, it is as good as lost, because it could be used or loaded before the actual recipient resells or recharges with it.
Secondly, if the phone gets lost at the time of having this message there is no means of recovering it. While another demerit is that any amount above N12,000 could be difficult to sell to a CTO and get instant cash.
In the nation’s telecoms sphere, all the four GSM operators now offer SMS along with some Private Telephone Operators (PTOs) as Value Added Services (VAS). Whereas some GSM operators offer theirs for N15 at peak hours and across networks, like Vmobile offers SMS for N10 during off peak. SMS is also offered by some PTOs at N10 within their networks.
Then, entered e-Nnovate, an annual VAS expo organized by XLR8 Nigeria, with its Chief Executive, Mr. Calixthus Okoruwa, saying the essence was founded on premise of empowering populace with the ability to be more meaningful in today’s digital age.
He pointed out that the platform was envisioned to enhance popular appreciation through adoption of technological tools and applications.
Recalling that Africa still falls far below expectation in the usage of computers, Internet and telephone, due mostly to Africans’ inability to adapt and appreciate technology “in our every day lives”.
Based on this realization and wider implication of a negative impact on the economic growth and development on the continent that gave rise to what he described as ‘sobriquet’, the digital divide.
Waiting for Africa:
Mr. Okoruwa stressed that the world of technology is continuously in flow of advances hence “the rest of the world is not waiting for Africa to catch up”.
The expo, Mr. Okoruwa noted is an attempt at bridging the digital divide, mostly with its three-phased approach, comprising de-mystifying of technology by providing technology-driven companies a platform not only to showcase their technology products but also to train users and potential users alike on the uses and applications of such technologies.
On the other hand, the expo avails operators a useful feedback as to the popularity of their products and service solutions, besides enabling conceptualization, development and marketing of innovative solutions by operators to optimize the value for themselves and end-users as well.
An open secret …
The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, has persistently advised Nigerian phone users among the ICT consumers to learn the features of their digital tools so as to optimally enjoy them, moreso in this era of convergence enthroned by unified licensing regime in the nation’s telecom sector.
For Communications Minister, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, Nigerians should play active role in provision of mobile content development and applications embedded in VAS.
Above all, he said, it permits people to conduct even transactions without physical presence with their clients.
However, an open secret is that the likes of Mr. Clinton could have learnt the ‘SMS money transfer’ concept from such expo as e-Nnovate, ever since, he has been using it and spreading the gospel of SMS in his vicinity.
As we move forward, it’s noteworthy that by this time next year a new revelation would have come to the fore, all for the benefit of end-users to optimize technology applications.