Mobile phone users in Kenya could start enjoying cross-network money transfers within two months, the Information ministry has said.
Airtel and Safaricom #ticker:SCOM are on Monday expected to begin trialling mobile money interoperability among their employees.
The month-long tests are expected to iron out the kinks and identify loopholes in the system. If the pilot process goes well and the operators gain regulatory approval, the product will be launched to the market.
“It will go to the public hopefully in March once there is regulatory approval and they’ve tested the security,” said Information Cabinet secretary Joe Mucheru during a press conference yesterday.
The sort of mobile money interoperability under trial would allow customers to send money seamlessly across networks. For instance, an M-Pesa customer would send money which would be reflected, in real time, in the recipient’s Airtel Money account.
This would be a change from the current situation where a text message alerts the recipient of the money to collect cash from an agent registered with the sender’s network.
Telecom firms have been negotiating this interoperability for almost a year and it is expected to be part of the solution to concerns over Safaricom’s dominance.
The convenience and efficiency of interoperability, it is argued, will provide an incentive for customers to register with the smaller operators.
“We expect as a result of the mobile money interoperability, other than the access and the efficiency, there is going to be more competition which should maybe lower the prices of the services,” said Mr Mucheru.
During the pilot period the operators are also expected to work out what, if any, charges will be levied on the consumer for cross-network transfers. They are also trying to understand how customer service and security will be assured in such a system.
Under the scheme, the three major operators will sign bilateral agreements with each other to facilitate network integration. Such a deal is already in place between Airtel and Safaricom.
Telkom Kenya will join the scheme later, once it re-establishes mobile money services, and will sign similar contracts with the two other operators.
Mobile money interoperability is only one of the remedies that have been proposed for the lack of competition in the local market.
A study commissioned by the Communications Authority (CA) last year also proposed the implementation of national roaming and tower sharing.
Mr Mucheru says that the telecom operators have also begun discussions on national roaming and tower sharing. However, the CA is still going forward with a parallel process