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Opinions of Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Columnist: Jeremiah Sam & Kwami Ahiabenu

Ghana's Competitive Mobile Market Spurs Multiple Apps

By Jeremiah Sam & Kwami Ahiabenu,II of, Ghana

Accra, Ghana)--Ataa Neequaye, a boat owner in the port area of Jamestown, said fishermen often used to throw some types of catch back into the sea rather than bring them to shore when local prices didn’t make it worthwhile to haul them in. But now, equipped with mobile phones, fishermen can call ahead to contacts in various fish markets for price updates and sail to the most profitable destination, reducing waste and increasing incomes. Neequaye added that the phones, some of which can find signals as much as 15 to 20 nautical miles offshore from terrestrial cell towers, also allow the fishermen to call for supplies to be delivered to them or to report emergencies.

Onshore, traders in Ghana’s largest market, Makola Market, are also benefiting from the mobile revolution. Maame Ama Donkor, a tomato “market queen” said phones help her significantly reduce the cost of business communications and slashes her traveling costs.

These are but two examples of the many ways in which Ghanaian individuals and businesses are using mobile phone applications to simplify their lives and boost their productivity. A vibrant and competitive mobile market, featuring five operators and a sixth (GLO) on its way in 2010, has created a market-driven enabling environment for useful applications in a variety of sectors-agriculture, commerce, health, education and more. What’s more, mobile phone tools are likely to multiply as more users are able to access the internet from their handsets, either going online directly or by using their phones as a modem connected to a computer. (Click here to view the Ghana Communication Profile)

*Transparent Markets*

As in the fishing community, Ghanaian farmers are tapping mobile phones for up-to-date market information. For example, Esoko Ghana has developed a commodity index to track the prices of selected agricultural products across the country. Mark Davies, chief executive officer of Esoko Ghana, said the price information is sent to farmers across the country by SMS text messaging, thus giving the farmers enhanced market knowledge, more negotiating power and increased revenue potential. Esoko also provides weather updates, education on better farming practices and prices for farming inputs.

*Mobile Money*

A number of financial institutions are offering mobile financial services, which are expected to attract a huge amount of liquidity held by Ghanaians currently operating outside the banking system-the so-called ‘unbanked’. MTN Ghana pioneered mobile money transfer in 2009, and other players are getting into the act. For example, Afric Xpress has introduced txtnpay, a system for sending money, paying bills, buying mobile prepaid airtime, checking bank balances and paying electronically for goods and services. Rhukaya Adams, a sales agent at txtnpay, says that a lot of people use this system to pay their cable television bills; Adams said people will soon be able to pay their utility bills with this system. Another payment services is offered by eTranzact, while most banks are now enabling client access to their bank accounts through mobile phones.

The health sector is also benefitting from mobile telephony. For example, Ghana’s Ambulances Service Directorate reports that in some parts of rural Ghana, mobile phones have helped to drastically reduce childbirth-related mortality among women by creating a communication channel between patients and health care institutions in other locations.

Mobile phones are also providing a helping hand in the fight against counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs. A relatively new application called mPedigree, developed in Ghana, allows the purchaser of the drug to check its authenticity by sending a code number on the drug package to the legitimate manufacturer via a short-code (4digit) text message address. The sender receives a quick reply saying whether or not the drug is authentic.

*Government in the Mobile Game*

The government has also entered the mobile arena. The National Lottery Authority (NLA) has developed a new game called “Mobi Game 2 Sure” which makes use of mobile phones to attract customers. George Osei Akoto, account manager at NLA Mobi Game, said the game has been a big revenue generator for the lottery, which is a crucial part of government revenues.

Mobile phone applications are also now the norm on the political front. During Ghana’s 2008 elections, a number of political parties used them in campaign communications and fundraising efforts, while election observers used mobiles for monitoring tasks. For example, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), used the mobile phone to raise funds by text message.

*The Downside of Mobile Use - Crime*

As with all new tools, they can be used for harmful purposes as well as beneficial ones, and mobile phones are no exception. In response, the National Communications Authority has announced plans to register all mobile users in order to combat some of these challenges. Ostensibly, registration would make it possible to track down callers suspected of illegal activities. So far there does not seem to be any public opposition voiced about registration.


1. Number of mobile users

2. Etranzact

3. Txtnpay

4. Esoko