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Monday, August 29, 2011

UK Start-up Company Looks To Link Up Third World Countries

Movirtu, a UK start-up is planning to help more than 3 million people in underprivileged countries gain access to mobile services by using a revolutionary method of offering their own personal mobile number but not an actual device.
It is planning to do this by partnering with a UN scheme known as Business Call to Action (BCtA). Instead of requiring an expensive handset, Movirtu allows a user simply to own a number, or identity that will be available through the mobile carriers in developing countries throughout South Asia and Africa. The identities can then be used by logging into other phones and then will gain access to their prepaid talk time and data usage packages – eliminating the need to have access to an expensive device whilst still allowing the use of a phone.

The savings are twofold, coming from the obvious lack of device costs, which even at just 15-20$ is a expensive price where the wages are typically just a couple of dollars. On top of this by using their own prepaid package they eliminate the costs involved when borrowing a phone. Typically, it is expected you will borrow a phone if you are in need, but you will pay a fee for the lending of the phone.
The scheme, which will target areas where phone uptake is obviously slow due to the costs, is expected to bring a number of benefits to the areas. It will allow access to services such as farming assistance, insurance and mobile banking, which are usually restricted to the owner of the phone; now these mobile identities will be accepted opening up a whole new world of possibilities to these deprived areas.

Movirtu has said that it hopes to induct at least 3 million new users initially to the service in Africa and South Asia and to continue to grow it where possible by using its link with U.N agencies and NGO’s, targeting 12 markets within 2 years. The first pilot rollout of the scheme is underway in Madagascar, which has good network coverage by its chief provider Airtel but is not widely used because of the costs of buying a phone. Once the service begins in earnest it is hoped to gain at least 50 million users, which is still a small drop in the ocean when compared to the 1 billion people in Africa and South Asia who rely on using borrowed phones.

The company is very hopeful for the future and hopes that the service will be a success and offer the chance for deprived areas to connect with the rest of the world, in particular targeting at woman users who are much less likely to own a phone when compared to men, either by choice or not. Ramona Liberoff of Movirtu said “Providing mobile identities in the developing world is Movirtu's primary business model” indicating just how hopeful they are that this service will take off and provide much needed links for poorer people in the targeted areas.

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