Next2.us and the SMS Business in Kenya

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A few weeks ago I got introduced to Next2.us. Next2.us brings geosocial technology and message match capability to simple low-end handset through text messaging. In other words SMS based social network.  It is not entirely new service in  Kenya as far as I can tell . I am yet to get time to compare it with Sembuse pioneered by @iddsalim and @mbuguanjihia or Mxit from South Africa but I think they are close.

SMS in its original form is highly  popular in Kenya and it seems the same  is still the case Worldwide. By that I mean SMS as the principal communications protocol between mobile phones. I might be wrong but I think that  there has never been a great new protocol to challenge the dominant position of SMS . According to a recent Deloitte study , which found that 90 percent of smartphone users send at least one text message per day.  While only 40 percent of smartphone users use social networks, including Twitter and Facebook, at least once per day.

I can remember the reactions of the Kenyan developers when Safaricom launched MXit.  MXit is purely mobile social network based on Instant Messaging service. You can use MXit to send text messages on your phone instead of the normal message sending tool.  At the time when it was launched , the local developers thought that Mxit with the help of Safaricom will box out all the local services in the market. Well that did not  happen like that  exactly, although it is still  early to tell.  But one thing is clear, no aggressive marketing on that front from Safaricom. Which is a big telling sign if you ask me.

Back to my experience with Next2.us. I liked the whole concept except the cost aspect. The cost of SMS in Kenya is Ksh.1.  At the time I did my testing bit, the rate of SMS through Next2.us was ksh.10 per sms but it is meant to drop to Ksh.5 once they have a dedicated short code for use in Kenya. Ksh.5 is too high although I understand where they are coming from. It is simply impossible to convince for example Safaricom subscribers to send SMS at 5 while they can use the same phone to send SMS at Ksh.1 or as low as 50 cents with Yu network. The only way  to do so is to make it more than just communication or connection.

Then there is Google free SMS with Gmail.  Not entirely free since you have to pay for internet itself in one way or another, but free anyway. In a day i get two or three SMSes on my phone sent through Gmail. With many Kenyans now having internet access at the comfort of their homes,  this might become very popular around here with time

Finally Twitter is also planning to launch SMS service in Kenya.  Jessica Verrilli Corporate Development & Strategic Initiatives at Twitter on an interview during her trip to Cameroon said that they are working with Safaricom to launch SMS service in Kenya soon.  The charges for that would be the same as that of the carriers they are working with. Considering all the above, Next2.us has a big mountain to climb and more so if their cost remain at ksh.5 per SMS.

The only way out at that rate is to try SMS Lottery

This is the best way to charge Kenyans more and they feel nothing about it. May be it is the love of free things or the love of getting things easily but the only time Kenyans are ready to spend more on things like SMS is when you promise them they will win something. Take for example the now banned infamous #6969, #2929, win millions competition.  You are charged around Ksh.60 to send one sms to those numbers and you are encouraged to send as many SMSes as possible. According to the insiders, doing so increases your chances of winning.  Yes, people do send such SMSes in big numbers..cash cow there.  By the way, I realized that you cannot ban this sms business completely. Did you know that there is a new one called Kwachu Mamilli?  One funny thing about the SMS lottery show, they show people who have won but never show how randomly they actually picked the winners….

That a side, back again to Next2.us

To get started

Step 1.  Register your mobile phone number with the Next2.us service by sending a SMS message to your country short code.

The text message needs to start with your country keyword followed by the Next2 reg command (or use the word anza in Kenya) followed by the name you want for your Next2 account and your location.  Next2 will respond by sms text message confirming your account name and giving you a password that works at http://m.next2.us.

Step 2. Second, you need to know the Next2 user name of the person you want to text.  Then just create a new text message using your country keyword followed by 4 then user name followed your text message and send it to your country short code.  (like this Next2 4 brip message.)

That’s it.  You can now send text messages from simple low-end mobile phones between USA and Kenya.

What is your opinion on the topic?
Kennedy Kachwanya
Lead Blogger at Kachwanya.com
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Kennedy Kachwanya is a technology blogger interested in mobile phones both smart and dumb, mobile apps, mobile money, social media, startups ecosystem and digital Savannah. New media must not forget the strength of old tech.
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