In a joint press release, three Tanzanian MNOs announced that their mobile money services, Airtel Money, Tigo Pesa and EzyPesa (offered by Zantel), will be fully interoperable by the end of June. While there have been other examples outside the continent, notably in Sri Lanka, this announcement marks the first instance of mobile money interoperability in Africa. Hans-Holger Albrecht, president and CEO of Millicom (Tigo’s parent company), stated, “With this agreement we can help make Tanzania a global pioneer in digital financial inclusion. Interoperability will be a catalyst for growth in the mobile money sector and is long overdue.” Helping to facilitate the agreement were the Bank of Tanzania, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the International Finance Corporation (an arm of the World Bank). Notably absent from the deal was Vodafone’s Tanzanian subsidiary Vodacom. Regarding this absence, Diego Gutierrez, general manager for Tigo Tanzania, stated, “There has been a commitment at group level including Vodafone to pursue interoperability.” He continued, “The conversations with Airtel and Zantel have moved quite fast but I think eventually everyone is going to be integrated.”
The willingness of three MNOs to come together and make a deal on mobile money is likely driven, in part, by their observations of the mobile market in Kenya, Tanzania’s neighbor to the north. There, Safaricom Kenya (in which Vodafone owns a 40 percent stake, making Vodacom’s absence from the initial deal in Tanzania probably not coincidental) has achieved a dominant position in the mobile money marketplace. Safaricom’s M-Pesa system is used in 98 percent of mobile money transactions in Kenya, with nearly a third of the nation’s total GDP flowing through it. The system is used for school fees, utility bills, money transfers and sometimes even to pay salaries. The near-universal acceptance of M-Pesa has prevented other mobile money platforms from gaining traction, and Safaricom has leveraged this position to expand its market share for more traditional mobile services.
Clearly, Tanzanian operators have every incentive to prevent this situation from being replicated in their country, and we believe that this program is a strong move toward that goal. The success of mobile money is predominantly driven by two factors—ease of use and the number of businesses and individuals that accept it as a viable cash alternative. While this program removes the possibility that any of these operators will be able to achieve the degree of dominance (and all the associated benefits) that Safaricom has in Kenya, it will likely expand the reach of mobile money in Tanzania, thereby increasing revenues for all stakeholders.
The above item appeared in a recent issue of The Tarifica Alert, a weekly resource that analyzes noteworthy developments in the telecoms industry from around the world. To access all of the latest articles and issues: http://www.tarifica.com/TarificaAlert.aspx