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At The Bottom Of The Pyramid


Browsing the NARS counter at Selfridges, I was taken by some eye shadow and just picturing myself as Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra when my friend Rod called from Cairo.

He was at the GSMA mobile payments conference investigating NFC: loads of trials. It’s the next big thing. Yup, another Groundhog Day technology.

Rod was full of the wonders of local infrastructure. Not GSM but the older infrastructure of Sphinxes and Pyramids. Ancient Egyptians built huge buildings, worked out a year was 365¼ days long and made beautiful jewellery when Brits were still wearing skins and throwing rocks at each other.

As Egyptians discovered empires fall. The empire no-one can tell if it's friend or foe, is Western Union.

For some it’s easy. Those countries America has recently bombed have a problem transferring cash through an American company.

It’s easy for people who’ve left home to work for low wages in the West to send something back, who see 15% of what they’ve scrimped together line the coffers of a $17bn corporation.

It’s almost as easy for the vast numbers who’ve been defrauded by tricksters using Western Union because of the lack of accountability. Ebay fraudsters and 419 scammers. It is not Western Union’s fault people are dishonest but it’s not like they do anything to help track the criminals down either.

Deciding between friend or foe is less obvious for mobile networks which see Western Union as the leading candidate for the glue which holds international money transfer together. So I will help. Oi! Networks! Infrastructure and communication – the glue –  is what you do.

Western Union has 350,000 agents who collect or pay out money. The mobile phone industry has 3,000,000,000. customers. Sony Ericsson has sold more Walkman phones than Apple has iPods. Nokia is the worlds biggest camera manufacturer.

The phone industry will do to Western Union what Nokia has to Polaroid. Vodafone M-PESA in Kenya has grown to 40,000 transactions an hour and has half as many users as the country has bank accounts. One country, one year. Vodafone’s reach is huge: nearly 300 million subscribers and has licenced M-PESA to the first non-Vodafone network.

Banks and Western Union are in it purely for the money. Networks want money but will compromise fat profits for loyalty. We switch phone network every five years but stick with a bank for life. If banking loyalty can rub off the mobile networks will be very happy. Customers with mobile payment accounts earn more money and spend more on airtime. All things which mean the networks can charge less than the banks.

Rod was less happy. He was after technology solutions and complained most of the conference in Egypt was devoted to the mass market which are referred to as “people at the bottom of the Pyramid”. He didn’t get the joke, but maybe he’ll laugh when he sees me wearing the gold eyeshadow.

Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column  the previous Friday by subscribing here.


What’s pink and unappealing? It’s Spam and it’s thirty years old which is apparently something to celebrate

HSPA Evolved sounds like something you’d find in a Mad scientist’s test tube, but it’s the latest option for mobile data. Bet it gives nothing like the promised 20Mb/sec. Still AT&T is going to have it.

Time was when Oftel only beat-up BT, now Ofcom has sunk its teeth into Phones4U.

We know it as Freeview, but the techie term is DVB-T. While Nokia prefers DVB-H there is the slight problem that there are no –H programmes. So LG’s HB620T DVB-T Phone makes sense. Even if the name doesn’t.

Samsung comes second in a one horse race.

Helio marries Virgin, Or at least they’ve announced an engagement. Still we couldn’t have a whole week without the US MVNO count dropping.

Ofcom says a lot of entirely predictable things and the BBC thinks it is news.

One day you’ll have a computer in your kitchen and it will look like this.


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