Today, mobile operator Orange (the most recognisable face of global telecoms group France Télécom) has announced it is elbowing in on one of the more lucrative new mobile markets – international airtime transfer, more commonly known as “sending minutes back home”
What’s the story?
One of the most popular uses of mobile devices around the world is allowing people to send money home. Now, “money” can take a couple of forms here – and when it comes to mobile, one of the simplest is “airtime”, or actual voice minutes. Quite a number of companies specialize in allowing people to transfer voice minutes from their account to their loved ones back home.
To perform this simple-sounding task, you actually need to have gotten some pretty complex machinery in place first. The actual process of transferring the minutes from one operator to another isn’t the most complex part of this operation. The most important things is that you need to be able to connect from the network you’re currently on to the network your intended recipient is on. And if you’re offering a “global” transfer service, then you need to be a hub that lies between operators all over the world.
So if, for example, you happen to be a colossal international telecoms operator with multiple network partners in every region, then you’ve got a pretty good launching point.
What is the Orange service?
Orange is offering the International Airtime Hub as an airtime carrier to any of its mobile operator or distributor customers. Any of these customers can automatically connect to every other company on the Orange hub, and transfer minutes from its own network to theirs.
For the subscribers of those networks, the International Airtime Hub offers two different services. The first one is called Roaming Recharge, and it allows mobile owners with pre-paid accounts to top up their accounts no matter where they’re roaming. The second is called Airtime Transfer, and it allows the user to send a top-up to a friend or family member living abroad. The actual topping up takes place on-line – but more interestingly Orange claims it will be available at “one of the various points of sale of the operator’s distribution network in order to adapt to local consumer habits.” Which sounds very much like Orange is going to be offering this service through the retail locations of its partners around the world.
What we think?
The thing about airtime transfer is that it’s a nicely developing industry. Companies like Ezetop and TransferTo are already building global airtime transfer pathways. Should these guys be worried? Well, take a look at what Alexandre Pébereau, Executive VP of International Carrier Operations at Orange, has to say:
“International Airtime Hub is a great opportunity for people in emerging countries and their relatives abroad to communicate more. Conquering this type of high-potential market is perfectly aligned with our international development strategy, a key component of the Conquests 2015 plan. Our ability to develop innovative services like International Airtime Hub is a new growth driver for the Group as well as for its partners.”
Whoo! That’s some fightin’ talk there, Al! Words like “conquering” and “Conquests” aren’t designed to make competitors feel at ease.