Africa: Gist Mobile Aims to Connect Diaspora Nigerians With Their Families - Virtual Numbers and VOIP Access At Low Rates

London — This week a start-up launched by Nigerians living in the UK has put a modern twist on the old-style VoIP access services. Russell Southwood spoke to Gist Mobile Co-Founder Aramide Adebanjo about how it works.

The idea for Gist Mobile came to its co-founders Aramide Adebanjo and Ola Ikotun when they realized they had a number of friends and family who travelled a lot:"If you're a frequent traveller, you need to change your SIM cards frequently. I have 10 different numbers for my Mum when she comes to visit myself and my sister."

He points to the way that Nigerian families may be split between two countries, with the Father in, for example, Canada and the Mother and children in Nigeria:"We're trying to provide a solution for that call back home to friends and families. You've got WhatsApp but the quality varies a great deal in different countries. Gist Mobile gives you more options to communicate."

Gist Mobile is a new mobile calling and messaging app for the African diaspora and anyone that regularly calls Africa or other international destinations. The new app provides users with multiple numbers, cheaper international calls and even free calls and messages to other Gist users.

Gist Mobile has no physical infrastructure and operates on the x-Mobility platform, which describes itself as a "mobile MVNO enabler". This gives it all the primary voice interconnects and virtual numbers it needs:"It gives you VoIP access and the amount of data you use on messaging is not as high as WhatsApp. We guarantee quality by using the best CODEX and by using the best interconnects." Also it can be accessed using the internet by those that have access to a reasonable connection.

It can give each user virtual numbers (for the UK, USA and Canada) which they can take with them wherever they go. Currently it is not able to offer Nigerian numbers but plans to do so in phase two of its expansion:"To use the number, you pay a small fee and you buy calling credits and top them up".

The fee for the virtual number in the USA and the UK ranges from £3.99 a month to £24.99 for a year. Payments can be made using either PayPal or Stripe. It says that the Gist app is easy to set up and as it is an app on your existing phone, you can keep your existing number and contract - so there are no hassles with changing provider.

It claims to have some of the lowest international calling prices:"We've matched (UK supermarket) Tesco's rates." Once your account is charged, the app will allow you to call any telephone number and the person being called will see it as "a regular call". The app has its own voice mail and messaging functions and you can switch numbers off when you're not using them. Calls from one Gist app to another are free except for the data costs.

It's only formally been launched three days ago so it's early to judge take-up rates:"We've seen quite some interest and had downloads from Nigeria, Ghana and the UK and as far afield as Brazil and Spain:"People can't travel during the Covid-19 crisis but they can still communicate. In the UK we want to support key workers so we're supporting supermarket workers by giving them a free £5 credit."

He's also looking to expand into Nigeria once he has sorted partnerships with local MNOs there:"We would buy numbers from the MNOs and international calls would still be making money for the MNOs. Users could have a Nigerian virtual number and make calls using MNO credit and we could revenue share with the MNOs. There are different ways of doing and we don't want to kill their market. Calls will be terminating on their network. A local number will continue to pay revenues locally."

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