Africa and mobile technology are a match made in heaven. Mobile technology has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to leapfrog traditional, and poorly implemented, wired telecommunications to be able to communicate over vast distances. Add in to the mix the necessity to find innovative ways to get around constraints, plus the MacGyver-ish ability to take bits and pieces of one thing and build something else, and it’s not surprising that so many mobile inventions have come out of the continent.
Here are the top five mobile inventions we recommend you take a look at:
- M-Pesa Even though M-Pesa had a pretty disappointing start in South Africa, with only around 100 000 registrations in its first nine months, it definitely ranks up there as one of Africa’s top mobile inventions, and has been deployed as far afield as Afghanistan and Fiji. M-Pesa was launched by the former CEO of Kenyan mobile operator Safaricom, Michael Joseph, in 2007. Today, 15 million of Safaricom’s 17.5 million subscribers use the system to transfer US$700-million per month, according to Joseph, speaking before the 5th Annual Mobile Banking and Emerging Application Summit.M-Pesa gives people who do not have bank accounts and previously only dealt in cash a way to safely and cost-effectively transfer money via their mobile phones. Safaricom, in partnership with Kenya’s Equity Bank, also allows customers to earn interest on M-Pesa balances.
- Fundamo Mobile banking golden child, Fundamo, announced a cool US$110 million (R750 million) acquisition by Visa this month. The company, founded by Hannes van Rensburg, ex-Sanlam CIO, in Cape Town’s northern suburbs, provides mobile banking infrastructure to mobile operators and financial institutions.Like M-Pesa, Fundamo proves that cellphones are key to providing banking services to the large number of people around the world who don’t qualify for, or have access to, a bank account. Fundamo has more than 50 active mobile financial service deployments in more than 40 countries around the world, including 27 in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. These deployments currently have five million registered subscribers, and have the potential, the company says, to reach in excess of 180 million people.
- MXit Arguably the bane of many parents’ lives, MXit, founded in Stellenbosch, South Africa in 2003, is the free online instant messenger and social networking platform that allows users to instant message via a cellphone at a fraction of the cost of a text message. For a small fee, as well as your data charges, users can also buy goods such as wallpapers and ringtones, or have conversations in the MXit chat rooms.User numbers are tricky to pin down, but are understood to be in the region of 10 million active unique users and 25 million registered users — primarily in South Africa, but also in Indonesia and other countries around the world. Increasingly marketers, educators and professionals in the healthcare industry are realising that MXit is an effective way of reaching the youth and young adult market. Next on the cards for MXit is a mobile wallet in partnership with wiWallet to allow purchases of larger items such as airtime, electricity and retail goods.
Ushahidi was born during the Kenyan election riots in 2007, when blogger Juliana Rotich wanted a way to allow people on the ground to report on violence, with the information primarily being captured by cell phone. Since then the Ushahidi team has built a powerful platform that captures information during a crisis, and displays it on a map to allow emergency services and other parties to get a crowdsourced view of what is happening.It was recently used as quickly as two hours after the Japanese earthquake earlier this year to identify locations where people might be trapped, dangerous areas, and the location of food and water supplies. Ushahidi has been used around the world during both political and natural crises in the USA, Haiti, Libya and India, amongst others.
Another messaging platform, JamiiX grew out of a mobile instant messaging service used to counsel teenagers affected by drugs, alcohol addiction, and HIV in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town. The JamiiX platform was developed by South African, Marlon Parker, to effectively manage multiple mobile chat and mobile social networks streams. It allows eight counsellors to have 300 instant messaging (IM) conversations in one hour, massively increasing their ability to assist those who need help.It was released for third party use in 2010, and the WHO (World Health Organisation) has deployed JamiiX, in conjunction with MXit, in Indonesia to aid communications after natural disasters. Deployments are also underway in Nigeria and Malaysia.