USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) is a communications protocol used in the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) networks for sending short text messages.
When you dial a number that starts with * and ends with #, you are using USSD. USSD is currently the best available communications technology to deliver mobile financial services to low-income customers.
With the notable exception of M-PESA in Kenya, the majority of large scale mobile financial services (MFS) deployments in the developing world use USSD as their primary mechanism for communication between customers and their mobile payments platform.
USSD has a variety of use cases and can be used for:
- WAP browsing
- Prepaid callback service
- Mobile-money services
- Mobile banking
- Marketing surveys
- Location-based content services
- Menu-based information services, and
- Configuring a phone on the network
In Africa, where many people still use feature phones, USSD is quite popular serving a range of activities like:
- Transferring money
- Balancing cheques
- Doing top-ups
- Buying data bundles
However, while these activities have innovated money transfer in one way or another, the ubiquity of USSD across the continent means that several other services have taken advantage of this to offer solutions in healthcare, agriculture, education, and transportation.
While the list is much longer, here are 5 of the leading non-fintech services leveraging USSD across Africa:
Founded in 2012, MLouma is one of the oldest products on this list. The app, which connects agricultural stakeholders, has evolved over the years to offer its service via mobile app, web, SMS, and USSD.
Through MLouma’s USSD platform, farmers can connect to buyers of their produce in real-time, as well as get advice on the weather and other important items.
Gifted Mom (Cameroon)
New and expectant mothers often have to deal with numerous hospital visits and medication to protect themselves and their children.
Gifted Mom helps them keep up with all these appointments by sending timely reminders. It also sends them verified periodic educational content on pregnancy and motherhood. Content on Gifted Mom is accessible via USSD to women across West Africa.
Insurance is often treated as an afterthought in most African countries.
Casava is trying to change this by allowing Nigerians to register for insurance for as low as $120 and make small weekly or monthly payments via their debit cards or USSD.
Chalkboard Education (Ghana)
Education is still a dire need across Africa, especially in lower-income households where people are unlikely to pursue higher education.
Chalkboard Education provides everyday Africans with access to distance learning university courses. The startup is able to do this via a mobile learning solution that students can access with or without an internet connection. Students can partake in classes through USSD and SMS.
Kasha is Rwanda’s top healthcare e-Commerce platforms.
The startup connects Rwandans to healthcare products through its multi-channel product which is accessible via web, app, SMS, and USSD.
Through its USSD channels, Rwandans can find out what items are in-store and make purchases.
That’s just 5 for now, but we will be publishing more soon!
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