London — There are apps that change your life and apps that make your life easier: both are needed. Kirusa's apps have focused on changing how people use their phone in Africa and point towards a different future. Russell Southwood spoke to Kirusa's CEO Inderpal Mumick about how it all works.
Kirusa talks about "re-imagining voice in a data era" and is creating products that work across all of your phone experience and users rather things like WhatsApp that work as standalone apps. A cynical outsider might say that this is the sort of thing mobile operators should have done in response to OTTs but we might all grow old and grey before that happens.
Kirusa has three products: InstaVoice, ReachMe and Konnect:"Instavoice is a new thing for people in the African market. Only 0.25-0.5% use voice mail." The widely used alternative is to call and hang up so that the person you wanted to speak to gets a missed call message: beeping or flashing as it is sometimes known.
"The problem with voicemail is how it interacts with a miscall. The latter is free for the cost conscious. You can't take both. You have to pay for the voicemail the moment the call picks up."
"We have built a tech that allows the caller not to be charged for the outgoing message and the person being called gets a miscall alert. There has been a phenomonal change in the uptake of the service. It's gone from 0.5% to 15% of people using voice mail."
A wide range of carriers on the continent are using the service which is seamlessly integrated with mobile carriers' existing infrastructure and is used in countries as diverse as DRC, Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Rwanda, Lesotho and Senegal: "The MNOs get more income by increasing the percentage who use voice mail and are getting 3-5 times the revenue they were previously." He claims 100 million users globally with 95% of them in Africa:"You make it part of the messaging experience. The person being called can see your messages and see voice mail messages left."
The second product is called ReachMe. This converts phone calls (to the local/home mobile numbers of travelers) into Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls and vice versa, allowing users to receive and make such calls within the app. To do this, the subscribers simply need to download the app and activate the desired roaming package before traveling and have an active internet connection such as Wi-Fi or mobile data to make and receive calls. Meanwhile, the experience of the party on the other side remains the same, with no requirement for the app or an active internet connection during calls.
ReachMe circumvents current roaming infrastructure completely. A significant benefit of this technology lies in eliminating exorbitant payouts to roaming partners and passing this advantage to frequent flyers. This would allow African carriers to offer low-cost roaming packages and plans to their subscribers:"We want to make roaming charges disappear or be very low otherwise users will simply go to OTT apps. In this way the MNO can recover some of the revenue and unlike the OTT apps it works to all numbers."
Again roaming is a service not widely used (anecdotally by a very low percentage of African users) but might be if the carriers worked on price and convenience. Users of ReachMe can also buy their own numbers for the UK, USA, Canada and France for as little as US$1 per month: the advantage of which is that your numbers do not need to be tied to your SIM card.
The third product is called Konnect and is aimed at enterprise customers:"We are offering this in selected markets in Africa including Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, DRC, and Malawi:"It makes it easy for enterprises to bring telecoms information into their products. For example, you can map numbers to A2P and P2A applications".
"One of the tools is to provide a portal with Snap Call which is a missed call service for enterprises. The enterprise buys a number and a potential customer can "flash" this number (to show interest in a product or service) and the enterprise will call you back. Or it can send you an SMS with a link to an app. It has also been used for voting for different contestants on TV shows. The app costs hundreds rather than thousands of dollars and takes minutes rather than weeks to implement."
MNOs either pay a monthly fee or a per user/revenue share to use the products and then can make it widely available to their subscriber base.
Why should these "make your life easier" apps be of interest to MNOs? In a continent that is slowly transitioning to data, it offers MNOs the advantage of being able to sell convenience, low price and calling any number using data. What's not to like?