The ingenuity of users to take up offerings and adapt them to their own needs can mean technology is used in a way the designers might not have anticipated.  That’s really the definition of disruptive technology.

As Digicel and Vodafone begin early rounds of jostling for market share, it might help consumers in Fiji to understand what the possibilities for the technology are. Consider the example of mobile banking in Kenya.  The incumbent operator Safaricom (a Vodafone partner) launched a service that would allow for prepaid cell phone plan users to send minutes to family members.  The service was immensely popular and allowed users to apply the technology to solve other problems:

According to Eagle, local incumbent Safaricom had started a minute-sharing service for its prepaid cell phone plans a few years back. The idea was to enable users to send minutes to family members in rural areas, who weren’t otherwise able to buy prepaid phone cards. However, Kenyans quickly came up with other uses. “Lots and lots of people were using it as a surrogate for currency,” Eagle said. “[You] could literally pay for taxi cab rides using cell phone credit.

The use of mobile phones in this manner has been a key part of how technological innovation has transformed Kenyan society for the better.    Unlocking the keys to these kinds of possibilities requires the ability to be responsive to the needs of customers .  Can we count on our local mobile operators to come up with such ingenious offerings?   It might be helpful to look at the types of promotions being put out by Digicel and Vodafone  and see if it offers us a glimpse of future possibilities.

Digicels Current PromotionDigicel clearly is looking down the road and recognizes that wide take-up of mobile internet service offers a lucrative revenue stream.  Their current offering includes access to 1 gigabyte of internet use.  They must get praise for offering promotions that propagate cutting-edge technology to users.

Over at Vodafone, their messaging seems to suggest that they are willing to concede first-mover status to Digicel.  They are aware of the fact that few people are willing to actually make the switch between providers and that Digicel’s early inroads will come from previously unreached users.

Word of their offering came to me via an article on Fijilive:

“The reduced call charges of 5 cents a unit can also be enjoyed from 12am (midnight) to 5am every other day of the week for the month of March,” Prasad said.

Come on Vodafone, that’s the best you can do? Offering for two weeks, the chance to make  phone calls  at reduced rate, in the middle of the night?  To be fair, that was just one part of the promotion.  Text messages have also been reduced to 5 cents, but its unclear if that is also just for the two weeks of the promotion.

We’re left with questions like, “on what days is the promotion actually valid?” Undoubtedly Mr. Prasad will straighten it all out in upcoming letters to the editor of the newspapers.  It is concerning to see that Vodafone’s marketing effort still has the markings of  the bad-old monopoly days.  Maybe they have chosen to see what kind of progress Digicel makes before they get serious about making offers on new services?

A new type of mindset is needed to foster the development of innovative ideas.  We see progress coming from so many different parts of the world.  If we are to plot a course from today to the point where services like the one in Kenya become commonplace in our own country, then we need to be able to count on our operators to show some vision.

Safaricom users can use their mobile phones for a wide range of banking services

Safaricom users can use their mobile phones for a wide range of banking services