The launch of a pay-by-text service for London cabs by Vodafone yesterday is a rare example of technology proven in emerging markets feeding developed territories.
The first of a fleet of “hundreds” of Vodafone-branded cabs hit the streets yesterday, offering registered subscribers the free m-payment option, and a range of charging points for all mobile phone makes that can be used by anyone.
Its part of a sweeping publicity campaign that will also see the firm sponsor train carriages, as it seeks to talk up its commitment to a city where its subscribers send 155 million texts each month. “[A]ll Londoners will be able to see our continuing commitment to the capital,” Vodafone UK chief executive Guy Laurence commented.
The service might be new for customers in London, but Vodafone subscribers in emerging markets will already be familiar with the concept of mobile payments through M-PESA, a scheme launched by the carrier in 2007 that offers the ability to buy airtime, pay utility bills and send cash to friends or relatives.
M-PESA was originally set up to serve large numbers of un-banked subscribers in emerging territories, however Vodafone is now adding money transfer services for those with bank accounts.
What’s strange is that Vodafone made no mention of its vast experience in mobile payments when unveiling its London sponsorship. Rival carriers are only just beginning to trial NFC-based mobile payments, but Vodafone already has a proven, secure, service available that could help it steal a march on those other operators.
Subscribers often cite security as the biggest barrier to adoption of mobile financial services, so M-PESA puts an ace up Vodafone’s sleeve – particularly when you consider the service now handles over half a billion US dollars-worth of transactions per month.