Gift of airtime

Eric Barbier, CEO, TransferTo tells CommsMEA why operators worldwide are utilising global mobile airtime transfer as a means to offering value-added service to their customers

Tags: BroadbandTransferTo ( Arab Emirates
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Gift of airtime
By  Nithyasree Trivikram Published  August 15, 2010

Tell me about TransferTo and its services.

TransferTo operates a global mobile airtime network interconnecting mobile operators globally on to a single platform. This network enables mobile subscribers to send small value transfers or top ups through their mobile phones to their relatives back home and to reload their own accounts while roaming. It is an innovative and differentiating service for the ethnic expatriate segments, which is by and large an under-served market with a high telecom spending usage.

Mobile phones play a significant role in emerging markets. Serving as a tool for economic development, airtime recharge transfer is increasingly regarded as a key mobile feature by expatriates and their families back home. With about 200 million migrants remitting $300 billion a year, and the prepaid model having around 80% market dominance, the real-time airtime transfer complements regular money remittances.

The service provides expatriates with a more convenient and cheaper method of allowing local workers to directly forward pre-paid mobile service credits instantly, through the introduction of international direct mobile top up reload transactions in real-time. Apart from operators, TransferTo also offers its services for retailers, banks and money transfer operators.

TransferTo has been offering its global airtime remittance network to various countries for over three years. Spread across five continents, we have interconnected our global airtime transfer platform with over 70 operators in 20 countries including China, Egypt, India, Ghana, Kuwait, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia. On average, mobile subscribers are using the service three times per month, which enables us to achieve more than 10% of the subscriber base with each operator globally.

How does the airtime transfer system work?

To perform an airtime transfer, the subscriber sends his request through SMS directly from his mobile phone to a short code provided by his mobile operator. The amount and destination number are the only required fields for processing the request. Both sender and receiver are notified directly on their mobile phone by SMS upon a successful transaction. On receipt of payment, prepaid credits are stored electronically in a data repository. The stored value can be consumed as per the terms and conditions of the mobile operator as voice, messaging or data. Alternatively, the stored value holder can share the airtime with another subscriber of the service.

The service supports the IN interface protocols of most existing platform vendors, and allows connections to proprietary protocols so that the operator is not required to invest in new systems.

The mobile application is a complete out-of-the-box application for mobile operators to offer the service. It is available through SMS or USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Services Data) channels and can connect to any type of charging interfaces.

We are basically connected to two key data centres in Singapore and Europe. From our network, we connect to the gateway or SMS centre of the operator, and are also connected to the prepaid system of the operator. If it is post-paid, we are connected to another gateway, called the ‘Charging Gateway’. The transaction is processed in real-time through a secure platform.

TransferTo is designed to allow interfacing with the operator’s existing real-time top up system.

How much potential do you see in the region?

Airtime remittance is a $20 billion market globally. Migration corridors, remittance trends and new mobile technologies all add on to remittance top up services growth around the world. In the Middle East, there hasn’t been much focus on the expatriate market. Moving into the airtime transfer space proves to be beneficial as it offers mobile subscribers convenience and flexibility to send small value amounts to friends and families back home. Mobile operators offer these mobile top ups as a value-added service to their customers.

In the Middle East, our first tie-up was with STC and the second one was with Wataniya Telecom of Kuwait. STC's service provides immediate transfers, which are triggered through SMS, and is currently open to customers with relatives in India, Pakistan, Jordan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Egypt. The Wataniya service enables communities of international workers in Kuwait to transfer airtime to reload the prepaid phones of their family and friends in India, Egypt, Bangladesh, Jordan, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

What are the future plans of TransferTo?

With a high expatriate population across the GCC, we plan to launch services through new and existing partnerships in the region. We plan to close deals with two operators, most probably in the UAE and Qatar, in the next few months, which will be followed by Oman and Bahrain. We target to add more operators in India onto our network. We will focus on extending our African network as well with more operators so as to create a migration corridor between Europe and Africa.

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