Tag Archives: africell

MTN’s “Unlimited” Limited Internet

I’ve been on the wrong side of various service providers as a result of my open expression of experiences while consuming services. It therefore came as a surprise when MTN Uganda called me up and requested that I try out the MTN Unlimited Internet Premium service.

Unlimited is a term that essentially means unrestricted, unconfined, boundless or infinite. So, in the real sense of the word, this service is not really unlimited. The package offers you internet access of upto 3 Gb on a daily basis. So, there is actually a limit only that it’s quite high for the average Joe to fully consume.

Being one with a mobile office, I rely a lot on mobile internet services to render my services. I must admit that I was one of those who were skeptical about this MTN offer until I tried it out.

In my days as a kid, I always demanded stuff like sweets from dad and mom whenever the opportunity presented itself. Today, my children demand data !!!! It is so serious that even when I claim not to have data, they mobilise resources among themselves and load a data package to see them through for a day or so. The kind of game apps they access can strain the regular data packages. This is another reason why I gladly wanted to test this service. How easy is it to deplete the 3Gb allotted daily?

I gave my family the challenge to deplete the daily allotted data and this meant unrestricted use of the internet. Where I used to limit them watching videos and TV shows online, this time round, they had a blank slate. They could hardly believe their ears. We all tried and worked towards this feat without success.

My initial observations show that it’s an always on service with much less downtime than my traditional data provider.

Consuming 3Gb of data is no mean feat especially if you’re not the type to always be at the computer. I tried watching all sorts of videos, encouraged my children to play online games, watch online study lessons, chose to upgrade software but alas, still failed.

This data service works well for urban connectivity, however, in rural settings, there are still challenges. I’m writing this article on a sojourn in Butaleja district and have had to do without internet while in my gardens and at home. Most urban dwellers can do with just about any service provider since their services are usually decent in such locations. It takes one a journey to rural locales to establish whether your data service is worth its salt. MTN Uganda has to find ways of improving 3G coverage nationwide.

There has always been this talk of lost data and I blogged about it before. It’s still a big problem apparently. I can authoritatively state that six (6) out of ten people I have interacted with have complaints about unexplained data loss. As a matter of fact, I personally transitioned from buying monthly data bundles to daily ones simply because of the ease of monitoring my data consumption. Imagine loading 1Gb of data for a month and by the third day it’s finished.

If you’re a power user and want to save yourself the data loss gymnastics, then I strongly believe opting for this “Unlimited” MTN Service is ideal. The cost of UGX 330,000/= monthly for the Premium option however leaves me wondering whether it is pocket friendly enough. However, there is the Basic option that goes for UGX 179,000/=. Maybe, I will consider subscribing for the latter.

Overall, my experience tells me, the MTN “Unlimited” Internet is worth having for the internet savvy.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

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HOW TO – Start a Mobile Money Business

Mobile Money (MM) is a form of electronic money service that enables phone owners send, receive and store money. The relative safety, ease of mobility and convenient nature of this service has endeared it to all sections of the society from the rich to the poor.

Before we proceed, it is important that we familiarise ourselves with some terminologies.

Agent: A person or business that is contracted to facilitate transactions for users. The most important of these are cash-in and cash-out (i.e loading and withdrawing money onto/from the MM system). They sometimes register new users, a service that earns them extra commission. As front line personnel, they also teach users how to best use the service.

mobile_money_agent

A Mobile Money agent in Kyebando, Kampala, Uganda

Aggregator: A person or business that is responsible for recruiting new MM agents. This role is sometimes combined with that of a Master Agent.

E-Money: Known as Electronic money in full. It is stored value held in the accounts of users, agents and the provider of the MM service.

Cash In: The process by which a customer credits their account with cash. This is done usually via an Agent who receives the cash and proceeds to credit the customer’s MM account.

Cash Out: The process by which a customer withdraws cash from their MM account. It is done usually by an Agent who gives the customer cash equivalent to a transfer the customer makes to the Agent’s MM line.

Float: The balance of e-money or physical cash that an agent can immediately access to meet customer demands to purchase or sell e-money.

Liquidity: The ability of an agent to meet customers’ demands to purchase (cash-in) or sell (cash-out) e-money.

MasterAgent: A person or business that purchases e-money from a Mobile Network Operator wholesale and then resells it to agents who in turn resell it to users. They usually manage the cash and e-money liquidity of their agents.

Mobile Money Transfer: A movement of value that is made from a mobile money account to another through the use of a mobile phone.

Platform: The hardware and software that enables the provision of a mobile money service.

In Uganda, the Mobile Money system works as follows;

The Mobile Network Operator (MNO) like MTN, Africell and Airtel sets up a platform that offers a service for phone owners to be able to “store and transfer” e-money using their phones.

A phone owner registers for the mobile money service with the telecommunications provider who creates the mobile money account associated with that particular registered phone number.

The customer then proceeds to cach-in onto their mobile money account by using a Mobile Money agent whom they give cash in exchange for e-money on the Mobile Money account.

This customer can through the execution of some commands send e-money to another mobile money account holder anytime they so wish. The recipient is at liberty to cash-out as and when they desire.

Just to show you how Mobile Money services have permeated our economy and become an integral part of our operations, picture the following scenarios;

  • Oloya works in Kampala and is constructing a house in the village. Every two days he is expected to pay for the services of the builders. By using MM, he is able to pay each builder directly onto their phone hence being assured of their commitment.

  • Nankabirwa is a produce dealer who has a network of buyers traversing numerous villages in Rakai, Masaka and other outlying districts. Their role is to identify produce for purchase and acquire it. By using MM, she is able to send money to these buyers of hers in the nick of time. She makes at least eight transfers daily during the peak harvesting season.

  • Pabire a rice farmer in Doho rice scheme by virtue of his mobility utilises MM transfers to pay for his workers’ services. These workers engage in activities like planting and weeding rice, land preparation, harvesting among others. This allows work to flow smoothly even in his absence.

  • Bakka leaves home for work fully knowing that there is no money for food that day. When he reaches his workplace (a washing bay), he transfers his income from washing the first three cars of the day to his wife at home using MM. Come evening, he is assured of finding food at home.

  • Sangalo is organising a wedding and she has reached out to relatives and friends to fundraise. The mode of pledge fulfillment being used is MM. Those contributing are sending their cash pledges directly onto her Mobile Money account.

  • Mugerwa, a parent at one of the boarding secondary schools is called by his son who reminds him about the study tour they are supposed to go for requiring a contribution of UGX 50,000/= per student. Instead of driving there to make payment, he simply sends th money via MM to the concerned teacher who then registers his son for the trip.

  • One can also pay for electricity, water, television and other services using Mobile Money.

So, how does one start this business as an Agent?

You need to have the following basics:

  • Two sim cards (Airtel and MTN). They are the biggest networks and handle at least 98% of the transactions. Others like Africell are still insignificant players.

  • Display Table. You need to have a display table that will not only store the tools of your trade but it can be stocked with other complementary products like mobile phones, accessories like phone jackets, screen protectors among others.

  • A dual sim card phone

  • A chair

  • Transaction books

  • Location

There are three approaches one can use to kick off. They are;

  1. Hiring a Transaction Line: This one involves hiring an already registered Mobile Money transaction line from someone or a company. With this line, you simply start off business without going through any registration hurdles. The things to note about this option include among others:

    • Paying a monthly rental fee of at least UGX 50,000/= for the MM line.

    • Income is in the form of a percentage commission earned on each transaction and is paid at the end of the month.

  1. Acquiring a Transaction Line through an Aggregator or Master Agent: Aggregators or Master Agents are companies that control specific territory on behalf of the Mobile Network Operators. Territories could include places like Kyebando, Kanyanya, Nakawa, Seeta, Bweyogerere e.t.c. These Master Agents get agency tenders through some bidding process and thereafter become responsible for licensing MM agents in their territories. For one to be licensed as an agent, you need to:

    • Present an Identity Card

    • Present a letter of introduction/recommendation from the Local Council

    • Have a deposit of UGX 80,000/= (Eighty Thousand Shillings) to purchase the kit

    • Fill in an application form

    • Have starting Float of UGX 2,000,000/= (Two Million shillings)

Income earned here is in form of commission on transactions. An additional surcharge of upto 10% (depending on the Master Agent) of your income is deducted for tax to the Uganda Revenue Authority.

  1. Direct Registration with a Mobile Network Operator (MNO): One is at liberty to register as an agent directly with an MNO like MTN or Airtel. Its requirements are more than the previous two options and they include:

    • Business Registration

    • Introduction/Recommendation letter from the Local Council

    • Functional bank account (for at least three months)

    • Filled application forms

    • An 80,000/= (Eighty Thousand Shillings) charge for the kit

    • Initial Float of UGX 2,000,000/= (Two Million Shillings) only.

Like the rest, income earned is in form of commission made on the transactions carried out. Unlike option 2 (two) above, with this form of registration, you are only charged the tax levy for Uganda Revenue Authority when your commission earnings exceed the UGX 1 Million Shillings threshold. The MNO then proceeds to deduct 4% which it channels to the tax man as opposed to the 10% deduction by Master Agents. This is definitely a better deal.

Option 1 is as instant as they get. If you want to hit the ground running, you may opt for this one. However, the margins are greatly reduced by the fact that you hire a Transaction line at a fixed monthly sum and because you are operating under another Agent, your margins are lower.

In the case of Options 2 and 3, After application and paying the UGX 80,000/= for the kit, you have to wait for two to three months prior to being approved as an agent. Once that is done, an Agent kit is availed and it consists of; three (3) phone lines, a phone handset, transaction books and other branding material like an apron.

Upon collection of this kit, you’re expected to deposit a float of UGX 2,000,000/= (two million shillings) on your Mobile Money line. Do I see you getting disheartened? True, raising this two million shillings lumpsome is a daunting task to many but there is always a way out. One trick is to borrow that money for a day, place it onto the MM line as float subject to approval and collection of your business material from the Master Agent or MNO. Once you have all that you need, proceed to cash out the borrowed money and return it to the lender.

How do you earn commission?

There is a well established commission structure clearly outlined by each MNO.

Airtel Agent’s Commission Guide (Extract)

Transaction Tiers

Cash In

Cash Out

Min

Max

500

2,500

150

100

2,501

5,000

150

125

5,001

15,000

285

450

125,001

250,000

520

1,300

1,000,001

2,000,000

4500

7,500

When a customer walks in and requests to deposit e-money onto their MM account, depending on the amount, you earn the commensurate Cash-In amount. If it is UGX 10,000/= they are depositing, then the agent will receive a cash-in of UGX 285/= on that transaction. Similarly, the Cash-Out commission applies to money withdrawals from the MM account.

Airtel does allow agents to check their commission status on a daily basis via the phone. However, the same does not seem to be true with MTN Uganda.

Success Factors for the Moble Money Agent business

  1. Trustworthiness: If you have to employ someone to operate this business on your behalf, you need to be able to trust them Anything short of that, you’re setting yourself up for failure. There are very many opportunities that these workers get to collude with crooks.

  2. Location: It is crucial to choose a location that is good. Since the commission on individual transactions looks small, the trick lies in volumes. How many transactions can you notch up a day? Ideal locations are corners of buildings or roads, boda-boda stages, busy trading centres, low cost residential suburbs, shopping arcades, taxi parks/stages among others.

    mm_corner

    A corner location like this one is very conducive for the Mobile Money business

  3. Customer Care: Many customers are ignorant about the operation of the Mobile Money services. They tend to ask questions one may consider dumb hence the need for any agent to have very good customer care skills. While researching for this article, I found agents being swamped by customers who wanted help with Sim Card verification. Imagine!!! Do not compromise on this particular issue when recruiting someone for your business.

    mm_operator

    Good customer care is dependent on the Mobile Money operator

  4. Mathematical Knowledge: The operator needs to have good mental maths skills. Customers come with all manner of requests and you need to be quick to mentally calculate and determine how much to transfer as requested. I witnessed a case where a lady came and requested the operator to cash out money from her account which has UGX 15,000/= (fifteen thousand) and ensure that it remains with only UGX 6,000/= (six thousand). He had to ensure that the transaction fees were factored in too. The operator had to first engage in some quick mental math before eventually fulfilling her request.

  5. Float Availability: How much do you have as e-money or cash? Customers keep walking in and out either cashing in or cashing out. You need to be in position to meet their needs most of the times otherwise they are likely to resort to the competition. I once had a need to cash-out UGX 300,000/=. I walked to three different MM agents in Wandegeya and none could meet my need. Out of frustration, I settled for partial cash-outs based on the float each agent had and this saw me use four different agents to meet my need. Since then, I never go to Wandegeya for MM cash-outs. Remember, if you set a reputation of always having adequate float, more customers patronise your services thereby enriching you commission-wise.

What are some of the notable challenges of this lucrative business?

  • Conmen: There are many conmen on the loose who target MM agents. Any form of sloppiness can lead to severe punishment. There was a case of a man who pulled up his sleek car infront of the agent’s display table, requested her to transfer UGX 450,000/=. She faithfully yielded as he pretended to count some money. The minute he confirmed reception of the money, he simply drove off leaving her stranded.

Most sophisticated conmen have been observed to operate from the city centre locations. So, in case you’re starting out, as you gain the experience, try to operate from the suburbs first.

  • Theft: Due to the carelessness of some agents, there cases of customers whose sole intention of patronising your service is to get to know the PIN number used to access the MM line. Most times agents type in the PIN number in full view of the customers. What the crooks then do is to later return and find a way of stealing the phone handset. Within minutes, they have withdrawn all the money and discarded the phone.

  • Cash Robbery: There are cases where an Agent has to bank the money earned. Sometimes due to late business closure, they might have to go home with the earned cash. Depending on how secretively one handles their operations, thugs tend to get wind of your earnings and simply way lay you.

  • Attention to detail: A customer once walked to an agent and requested to cash-in UGX 99,000/= (Ninety Nine thousand shillings). The agent instead punched UGX 990,000/= (Nine hundred and ninety thousand shillings). The customer paid up and left. During the evening reconciliation, she realised there was a massive shortfall and upon close scrutiny, the anomaly was discovered. It took a week of negotiations and a 100km journey to Masaka from Kampala for the money to be recovered.

  • Collusion: Some staff running the MM outlets have a tendency of conniving with other people to defraud their employer. They then feign ignorance or put the blame on mistakes.

Just to give you an idea, earnings can start from as low as UGX 50,000/= (fifty thousand shillings) per line per month with start-up Float of UGX 500,000/= (Five hundred thousand shillings) reaching an average of UGX 1,000,000/= (one million shillings) with a float of UGX 3,000,000/= (Three Million shillings).

The monthly pay for Mobile Money Operators ranges between UGX 100,000/= and UGX 150,000/=.

While offering the MM services, always consider selling complimentary products like Airtime, Flash disks, Memory cards among others. Airtime commissions can very easily supplement your income too. The current commission structure on airtime of UGX 10,000/= (ten thousand shillings) is as follows:

MNO

% Commission

MTN Uganda

4%

Airtel

5%

Africell

7%

Welcome to the Mobile Money Business.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

Other Articles of Interest:

Additional information from GSMA – Mobile Money for the unbanked.

Sim Card Verification exposes the joke that UCC has become

Only Dr. Stella Nyanzi in my view has the right vocabulary to effectively describe the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and its haphazard handling of issues.

Five years ago, the commission huffed and puffed about the need to register sim cards citing security as one of the key reasons it was being done.

mkts01px

Eng. Mutabazi being assisted during the launch of the registration exercise. Photo Credit – Daily Monitor, 2012

The Executive Director, Eng Godfrey Mutabazi is on record having said that, “In countries where SIM card registration has been taken seriously, a drop in crime especially cybercrime has been registered. We want to emulate this and see to it that such unlawful acts are done away with.”

 

Many of us supported the move and even used various fora to enlighten the general public about the importance of registration. The deadline set for 2013 passed and before we knew it another threat was issued to the telecoms companies to ensure that the process is completed in 2015. Interestingly, we were led to believe that the issue had been sorted once and for all.

To my shock, earlier this year, information from the Police begun pointing fingers at the use of unregistered simcards by criminal gangs. The UCC kept mum. Is it because the victims were largely lay men? It wasn’t until the investigations into the assassination of the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Mr. Felix Kaweesi (RIP) that the UCC was jolted out of its slumber.

With the kind of resources this institution commands, it is foolhardy for one to believe that they have a genuine reason for such a lapse in judgement. I strongly believe this is a sign of gross incompetence in the institution that is failing to offer the much needed direction for the ICT industry, preferring to concentrate on shutting down internet during election time as well as shopping for pornography tracking equipment. It seems like UCC is narrowing its attention to matters that involve procurement (this was actually intimated to me by a Member of Parliament) as they offer quick gains to the individuals involved there-in as well as satisfying the politburo’s demands. These two areas of engagement I presume form the basis for any contract renewal that the head of the institution is definitely interested in.

By failing to do the obvious, the Eng Mutabazi led outfit has slowed down the pace set by Mr. Patrick Masambu the former Executive Director of UCC who is currently the Director General of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (ITSO). Despite the massive hurdles he went through to set up this institution, Mr Masambu defied all odds to leave a healthy and globally acclaimed institution in place.

The latest gaffe has been the press release by UCC that orders Telecommunication service providers to verify all SIM card subscriber details within seven (7) days starting 12th April 2017. The communique advises the public to visit the nearest authorised telecoms service centres as well as utilising the *197#.

I can only shake my head in disbelief because whoever came up with this decision at UCC is out of touch with reality. Do they think that they are managing a home? Do they realistically expect even 50% of the Ugandans to get sorted within one week? Which world are these !#%&^396$#@ living in? (Dr. Nyanzi the queen of metaphors please come to my rescue here)

Now to Eng Mutabazi and your team, do you really believe that:

  • All Ugandans are within 7 days reach of a recognised Telecoms Service Centre?

  • All Ugandans will have got the information to pursue this activity within 7 days?

  • All Ugandans will have the money and time to make it to the various centres within 7 days?

  • All Ugandans have National IDs?

  • All Ugandans are utilising their cell numbers within the boundaries of this country?

  • All Ugandans have time to repeatedly go to Telecoms service centres in a bid to repeat activities they had already engaged in?

Take the example of this guy

kaabong

Meanwhile, like you can see, he at least might be able to afford the entire exercise financially. What happens to the many that cant afford it and also reside where he is currently working? [Pointing my index finger onto my bald head saying “COMMON SENSE IS NOT COMMON”]

Meanwhile of the seven (7) days given, four of them are taken up by the Easter Holidays. For a country that is over 70% Christian, why do you think they will leave their celebrations to attend to an exercise that was caused by your incompetence?

When will you get out of this gambling nature that seems to have become a part of your operational manual? I do believe that UCC as an institution has some very brilliant minds, a number of whom are known to me personally but the way the institution is operating as a whole, makes any outsider think it is a bunch of jokers. This should be a wakeup call to the appointing authority, at this rate, the efforts to attain Middle Income status are likely to be sabotaged by an inefficient Communication and Technology Sector whose regulatory agency seems to be operating in a reactive rather than proactive manner.

This seven day deadline is simply a poorly thought through decision that only serves to lay bare the incompetence of the institution we are meant to look upto for guidance. Could it be time for a total purge?

Let me go pick my orange tree seedlings and plant before the rains cease. I think I have had enough of this circus.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

Other Articles of Interest: