MXit trials WiFi payments

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Africa's largest mobile social network has developed its own 'geo- fenced' mobile payment system, which uses WiFi for close-proximity transactions.

According to MXit, staff members have been trialling Gust, a mobile application running on Apple's operating system, at selected day-time coffee shops and restaurants in Stellenbosch, since April.

Joe Botha, founder of Gust and of vendor relationship management tool TrustFabric (which is integrated with MXit), says a Beta version of the app is expected to be ready in June.

Location logistics

Botha says Gust wallets run on iPhones, while the merchant side runs on iPads. “When two devices are close to each other, the merchant can request a payment from the mobile phone user. Unlike other payment systems which use geo-fencing logic, Gust does not need a GPS device or even a GSM connection.”

Instead, says Botha, Gust simply utilises WiFi and the user's name and photograph to make a payment. “Devices on the same WiFi network will discover each other. All communication happens over the WiFi network, which makes the payment process very fast.”

Botha says the idea behind the Gust project was to design a fast and reliable mobile payment experience, without near-field communications. “[It] started out as an experiment with geo-fenced payment experiences [and] a small team built the Alpha version in six weeks.”

Botha says the team uses cryptography systems, each where relevant, for security measures. “Some are for the financial transaction (non-repudiation) and some for user privacy.”

Cashless town

While Gust is only available at certain Stellenbosch coffee shops and restaurants at the moment, Botha says other merchants may be added to the system in the near future.

“[Other] shops like hairdressers are already part of the MXit wallet ecosystem, so it should be easy to offer the system to other merchants in Stellenbosch soon.”

Ultimately, says Botha, the team's plan is to make Stellenbosch the first town where cash is not needed for transactions. This is in addition to the goal of providing the town with free WiFi.

He says merchants and users that have experienced Gust have given “very positive feedback”.

While Gust is currently a free service, Botha says there will probably be a “small fee” per transaction on the merchant side in future. The app is at present only available in Stellenbosch.

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