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Going digital on $2 per month?

Technology transitionGoing digital on $2 per month?

by Ziad Shatara

When people in the mobile industry talk about “digital”, they often are only talking about smartphones, mobile internet and the exploding number of app-based services.

However, in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan where 3G has only recently been launched, is there any way to bring “digital” to those customers who have yet to get smartphones? More to the point, is there a way to get those customers to start behaving digitally in the absence of conventional digital means?

Unstructured Supplementary Services Data (USSD) can be the answer, as the bridge to “digital” customer engagement for millions of customers. It’s something we’ve been actively focusing on as part of the process of launching 3G.

Even though the technology dates back to the early 2000’s, USSD has features that enable a range of automated customer care and customer service functionalities that can be delivered at minimal cost in real time.  It’s worth noting that USSD is seven times faster than SMS. Through on-screen menus as well as short codes, USSD also allows for airtime balance checks and money and balance transfers where permitted.

USSD is also a platform for enabling our value-added services in e-Health, e-Agriculture, e-Government and e-commerce,, services that have a positive impact on the lives of millions.

Although smartphone and Internet use is growing in Bangladesh and similar countries, the intelligent use of USSD—a technology that is understood and used by millions in the developing world—can bring the benefits of the current digital revolution forward by a matter of years.  USSD is a useful bridging technology to 3G, allowing people to do many things with their current phones today that they will do with their smartphones in the near future.

Intelligently developing our USSD range and encouraging its use among those without smartphones will play a role to help get people “Internet ready” until the time when smartphones and mobile internet become viable options for them. USSD will also help move customers towards digital self-management of their own accounts and services, a crucial cost-saver when customers are paying $2 per month.

USSD may not be “technology of the future,” but is it “a technology with a future?” And can it be a launch pad for more modern digital services in the near term in still-developing markets?

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