An SMS-based mobile payments system designed to work in remote regions of Africa with limited communications infrastructure has been launched by Masabi and Mi-Pay.
The vendors say their Street Vendor application allows mobile operators, banks and other providers to offer their services in remote regions without additional investment in infrastructure or hardware, using the existing mobile phone base.
The technology works in any part of the world that has SMS reception, which means that unlike mobile operator-led payment services, it does not require new SIM cards to be issued or integration with local network infrastructure.
In addition, the application is compatible with many standard handsets, up to seven years old, and doesn't rely on smartphones or 3G and GPRS connectivity which are not always available in rural areas.
The application enables handsets to act as an electronic point of sale terminal, enabling street vendors to use their phones to offer people services such as international remittances, micro-loans and insurance.
According to Ben Whitaker, COO, Masabi, the system will allow mobile operators and retail providers to create new sales channels for services in areas with limited communications infrastructure and accessibility.
"A 'Street Vendor' with even old handsets can now offer international transaction and retail services to local consumers, without the need for vast technological infrastructure," says Whitaker.
For transactions, the handset communicates with a central server for authentication and approval over encrypted SMS in areas where other data connections are unavailable. The system complies with all international anti-fraud and money laundering guidelines, says Masabi.
Norman Frankel, CEO, Mi-Pay, adds: "In developing countries, such as those in Africa, where there is insufficient payments revenue to justify the capital expense of rolling bank branches out across large geographical areas, mobile initiated domestic financial services have the potential to transform the retail sector and, therefore, the economy as a whole."
Street Vendor is already live in Sudan with other roll-outs planned across the Middle East and North Africa.
Rapid adoption in the developing world will fuel a boom in mobile payments over the next three years, with global transaction volumes reaching $250 billion in 2012, according to a recent report from Arthur D Little.
In February the GSMA, which represents the interests of the worldwide mobile communications industry, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a programme that aims to expand the availability of financial services to millions of people in the developing world through mobile phones.