Mobile payphone boost for SMEs

By Itumeleng Mogaki, ITWeb junior journalist
Johannesburg, 22 Jul 2005

A GSM handset that street vendors can use as a public payphone could create a million jobs in Africa over a 24-month period, says its creator.

The payphone developed by Cape Town-based SharedPhone International targets informal business owners such as taxi owners and hairdressers, who can then make the service available to anyone who cannot afford a handset or airtime.

Described as a breakthrough technology in the GSM telecommunications sector, the payphone has been rolled out locally by MTN, Gemplus and Motorola, with several hundred units already in the market.

SharedPhone International MD Warren Steyn explains that SharedPhone operators can buy airtime from MTN, set minimum billing tariffs at a fraction of the standard price, cut calls when the customer's money has run out, and return change to a customer whose call ends early.

"Operators can also reconcile daily sales to vouchers used and cash received, and monitor balances and locations on multiple phones via SMS."

Steyn says local calls can be made for as low as 35c per unit, and that a good operator who vends electricity, airtime and uses his phone can earn close to R5 000 per month.

"Considering that 50% of the SharedPhone owners have another business such as a taxi service, hair salon, or spaza shop, this earns them extra cash."

Steyn says Nigeria, Mozambique, Lesotho, Cameroon, Tanzania and India have already rolled out the payphones. "Other countries that have shown interest include Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Brazil.

"SharedPhone is looking for like-minded GSM networks and payphone companies to roll-out the new product."