The true value of the USSD proposition
Fabien Delanaud explains the true value of the USSD proposition for mobile operator across the world, particularly in emerging economies.
USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Services Data) is a simple & efficient bearer that allows access to 100% of mobile devices. From basic phones to smartphones, with or without any mobile data being used, USSD messages travel over GSM signalling channels and are used to query information and trigger services. USSD is still very much used in mature markets on prepaid. There are tremendous opportunities as USSD roaming is typically free to the users, while data roaming costs are extremely high. Whilst SMS has been used and abused, and often subject to spam and associated regulations, USSD is free from these issues.
USSD is menu-driven, and therefore a lot more interactive than SMS, in pull or push mode (ability to push a menu to a mobile phone). USSD messages create a real-time connection during a USSD session. The connection remains open, allowing a two-way exchange of a sequence of data. An example of this was few years ago when the Mexican Federal Ministry of Health required robust data on H1N1 symptoms & spread, they decided to send a survey across the population. SMS was used as a notification method to give the USSD short code. USSD was then used to do this health survey. (http://www.sofinnova.fr/en/telefonica-mexico-and-myriad-group-named-as-finalist-for-gsma-global-mobile-award/)
Beside the limited number of characters (182 characters, more than SMS or Twitter), it is a proven technology available everywhere. There are quite a few Web 2.0 services that can be provided over USSD with the right level of expertise:
- Self care – when deployed, it decreases the IVR needs drastically and accelerates top-up revenue
- Please call Me – service which allows subscribers to request people to call them back, very popular (half a billion transactions monthly for a typical large OpCo.
- Social Network access –a service In high demand across Latin America and Africa, which provides no-data access to Facebook and Twitter
- Mobile Financial Service (M-payment, Selfcare Banking) – this service can be used to transfer money internationally, pay for bills/restaurants, get cash. There is a growing demand for this service in emerging markets – especially in Africa – that is a great substitution for a credit card
- mHealth services – such as location-based medical directory & medical advice
- Survey – allowing further reach than an app or web based survey. As well as it is a safe and reliable survey medium.
In a social media driven age, USSD importance is greater where millions of feature phone users can gain interaction onto these channels, which were not available to them prior. Giving all of consumers, regardless of their phone, geographic location, subscription, connection, etc. a means to engage and connect with friends and family, as well as access to a vast pool of knowledge and greater digital inclusion. With 4 Billion feature phones still in the market in 2015, GSMA estimates only 50% of the mobile connections will have data access in Sub Sahara Africa by 2020. This is important because, although smartphone penetration & 3G/4G coverage are increasing, the cost of data access is still beyond most people’s reach in emerging markets such as Latin America and Asia. Seven out of ten connections are on 2G by end of 2016.
Additionally, USSD also adds trust to users both consumers for e-commerce and social media use. Unlike SMS, USSD notifications and menus are not stored on the device, which makes it safer for storing secure passwords or other sensitive information. It also uses a real-time connection, allowing session-based communication, ideal for customer service. USSD notifications and menus can dramatically improve the user’s experience, giving you the ability to quickly and cost-effectively send essential and useful alerts to engage in interaction and send important information.
Although USSD has been around for some time, it continues to be a cost-effective, secure and quick service that opens up plenty opportunities for engagement through updates, interaction and important alerts. USSD breaks down geographical constraints and can reach everyone, everywhere, no matter how remotely they are located.
Fabien Delanaud is the General Manager for the Sub Data Division at Myriad Group. With twenty years of experience supporting Tier 1 Mobile Operators worldwide, prior to Myriad Fabien worked at Acision, as VP of Services for Europe and Russia, and before that he was Vice President of Operation at Mavenir. Fabien studied at Ecole nationale supérieure des Télécommunications de Bretagne, where he did a MSc in Signal Processing & Telecoms.