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Glancing on the future of technology, two undergraduates from Faculty of Information Technology, University of Moratuwa has founded ‘SoftBeetles’. They are working with one of the prior startups guidance program in Sri Lanka, MIT Global Start-up Labs (GSL) 2014 powered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology in USA.

SoftBeetles‘ has focused on an important problem which is periodically faced by university students to initiate their first product. Finding boarding places for first year students and other academic year students has grabbed their attention to find a stable solution. This can be introduced as one of the major issues which new comers face when they enter to universities. Most time before entering to universities, applicants try to find good boarding places but the issue is there is not a unique platform for providing such services. Even though there are some platforms which provides similar services, there is no unique, dedicated platform, providing what SoftBeetles are trying to introduce as their first product. Covering all existing solutions for this problem, they were able to showcase the product ‘boarding.lk’ during ‘Demo Day’ for MIT GSL 2014 on 30th July.

The students who have initated with the help of mentors at MIT GSL are Hiruma Punsali and Sandarekha Ramanayake.
boarding.lk has its own values. Ratings, recommendations, reviews of the boarding places from students and up-to-date information will be offered for students. This will be the first product of SoftBeetles and they hope to extend this idea for all over universities and other institutions as well.

Hiruma and Sandarekha during mentorship Industry Day 2

Hiruma and Sandarekha during mentorship Industry Day 2

With more students joining with GSL programme to take entrepreneurship seriously, the goal of setting up 1000 startups (as targeted by SLASSCOM) by 2022 could well be a reality in Sri Lanka.

Feature image photo credit – Hiruma Punsali

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Mobile phones are one of the essential commodities these days. Well, they do have endless uses and the Asian region has the highest adaptability rate. In a recent report published, Ericsson claims that in the next 5 year period, highest share of the smartphone growth will come from the Asia-Pacific region. We recently published the growth in smartphone sales based on a report by CMR India. And the same people have now released the Sri Lanka mobile market share report for the 1st quarter of 2014. And we have listed out the key takeaways from the report, below. We have also turned the report into a nice infographic for easy viewing.

Important: There are few things you you should note before reading the facts/ infographic. We have repeatedly used the term ‘sales’ below. But what it actually means is the ‘number of units shipped to’ retailers or distributors. Given supply shares reflect the demand in the market, the producers of the report have used it to reflect the sales in the market.

Another important fact to note is that the numbers actually mean the number of units shipped by OEMs to authorized distributors or retailers. This report does not include the devices sold in the ‘grey market’. There are also instances where devices are brought down by individuals traveling from abroad and the report does not track the numbers. Given these facts, please note that the actual market share numbers will be higher than what is shown in the charts.

Key facts from the report

1- Compared to Q4-2013 (0.8 Million), ‘mobile handsets’ sales (shipments) in Sri Lanka has seen a drop of around 5% in Q1-2014 (0.76 Million).

2- Drop in the sales of ‘feature phones’ (0.68 Million in Q4-2013 and 0.64 Million in Q1-2014) contributed to this overall drop in sales. Smartphone sales (shipments) remained unchanged.

3- Total of 0.12 Million smartphones were sold (shipped) in Q1-2014, which is around 15% of the total mobile phone sales of the quarter.

4- With 26.2% of the market share, Nokia remains as the leading mobile phone vendor in Q1-2014. Compared to 23.8% market share in Q4-2013, Nokia’s mobile handset market share has seen an increase in Q1-2014. We have clearly seen Nokia promoting the Lumia range heavily in Sri Lanka through dealers and service providers in the past few months.

5- Micromax has retained the 2nd place in among leading mobile phone vendors in Sri Lanka with 18.3% of market share. Micromax had 21.4% market share in Q4-2013.

6- With 11.4% of market share, E-tel beat Samsung to claim the 3rd spot in ‘mobile phone’ market share. Samsung occupied the 3rd spot in Q4-2013 with 12% market share. Also notable is that Samsung had the 2nd spot back in Q3-2013.

7- Samsung remains as the leader in ‘smartphone’ segment with 27.7% market share in Q1-2014, which is an increase compared to Q4-2013. Back in Q4-2013 Samsung’s market share in the smartphone segment was 21.2%.

8- Huawei retained the 2nd spot in the smartphone segment with 18.9% market share, while E-Tel took the 3rd position with 13.9% market share. Back in Q4-2013 Huawei and E-tel had 19.6% and 16.1% market shares, respectively. A notable fact is that for the year 2103, Micromax maintained the overall 3rd place in smartphone sales. But for the last 2 consecutive quarters E-Tel has overtaken the sales of Micromax in that department.

Source: CMR India

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These days we do a lot more than making calls on our mobile handsets. Many spend much more time on internet browsing or instant messaging than using the device for calling someone. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see any innovation on the voice call front; given the ultimate purpose of phones, is to call others. In the last few weeks Mobile HD Voice has been one of the much publicised topics in the country. As the name suggests, we are talking about high quality voice calls in mobile networks, with an improved user experience.

A new innovation?

HD Voice service was first introduced to Sri Lanka by Dialog, back in early 2012. Dialog was the 42nd operator, globally, to introduce the service to their customers. Last month Etisalat became the second operator in Sri Lanka (and 107th operator globally) to add this feature to their network offerings. So, clearly it is not entirely new to Sri Lanka.

So what exactly does HD Voice mean? And how does it work?

To start with, HD Voice is an umbrella term that refers  to the technologies that enhance the quality of an audio call (or even the ‘audio’ part of a video call). Yes, that means there are more than one technology used together or separately to achieve the ¨HD Voice functionality¨…or rather the improvement.

HD Voice improves the quality of the voice call. It provides more natural sounding calls. HD Voice also helps people hear better in noisy environments by reducing the background noise, using noise cancelling techniques. Which means, with HD Voice, your caller’s voice will sound less robotic and you will be able to differentiate between ‘s’ and ‘f’ easily. Overall HD Voice improves the user experience. This is not something new. VoIP services like Skype has been using such feature for a long time and probably you have used it too, but we are talking about bringing the feature to mainstream mobile voice communication.

The technology behind HD Voice

There are three mechanisms that are widely used to achieve the HD Voice functionality.

Frequency Range: Narrowband vs Wideband. (Image Source: road2it)

Frequency Range: Narrowband vs Wideband. (Image Source: road2it)

First, doubling the audio bandwidth. Instead of limiting a voice call to the current narrow-band frequency range of 300 Hz and 3.4 KHz, HD Voice makes use of Wideband audio technology that transmits at the range of 50 Hz to 7 KHz. To achieve this, operators use an audio codec called Adaptive Multi-Rate Wideband (AMR-WB), which doubles the audio bandwidth compared to traditional  telephony. In ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) terms AMR-WB is codified as G.722.2 codec.

Secondly, improved acoustic design. This is more or less something that the device manufacturers need to focus on. Since HD Voice utilizes greater bandwidth with the help of AMR-WB codec, the devices too need to be designed in a way to utilize the greater bandwidth offered to them. Here’s where acoustic design comes into play. Components like the microphone and speaker need to be of good quality and they need to be well integrated to the device, in such a way to optimize the HD voice features.

Thirdly, redesigned signal processing algorithms. Processing of the audio (in the background ) is an essential part of the whole process. The algorithms that handle this part, are capable of handling higher ‘sampling rate’ compared to regular voice calls. Regular voice calls take 8000 audio samples per second (8 KHz) to process the call. In HD Voice it is doubled to 16000 audio samples per second (16 KHz). Hence, users will be able to hear ‘more details’ from a person’s voice. Another algorithm used in this process is a noise suppressor. This helps in reducing the background noise while a person is using HD Voice.

Global availability

According to the latest report published by Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) on 2nd June 2014, 109 mobile operators across 73 countries around the world have launched the HD Voice service for public. And Sri Lanka is one of the 22 countries which has more than one operator offering the service.

HD Voice: Global Availability. (Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

HD Voice: Global Availability.
(Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

As I mentioned before, Dialog (the largest mobile service provider in Sri Lanka) introduced the service on their 3G/HSPA network back in February, 2012. Etisalat joined the club last month (May 2014) by upgrading their 3G/HSPA framework with this capability. On GSM/HSPA platforms, all it takes the operator is to upgrade their existing network infrastructure(i.e no need to add new base station components), in order to offer HD Voice service. Since HD Voice feature is an upgrade to the operators existing infrastructure, they will not be charging you extra for the service. You will be charged the regular rates when you make a call, while the call quality gets better. Sounds cool, right? Well, read further!

Requirements to experience HD Voice

That brings us to the important part. As an end user (customer/ subscriber) what does it take you to experience mobile HD? Well there are few requirements.

1- Your phone and the phone on the other end need to be HD Voice compatible.

Imagine this like calling someone on Skype. Just like you both need to have Skype installed on your devices to make the video call, both devices need to be ‘HD Voice compatible’ to use the HD Voice service offered by your mobile service provider.
According to GSA report of March, 2014, there are at-least 329 mobile phones from 19 manufacturers that support HD Voice (AMR-WB, currently available. Most of the new devices introduced daily, are compatible with the feature. You can have a look at the device list here.

Does my phone needs to be a smartphone?

Not really. AMR Wideband was first developed by Nokia. HD Voice technology was first implemented in 2009, when the number of smartphones were limited. And Nokia was one of the first manufacturer to integrate the technology in their handsets including the ones that ran S40 and Symbian S60 OS. Hence, your device does not need to fit into ‘smartphone’ category to experience HD voice. But it should be compatible with AMR-WB. Most new devices released these days support it. (So, in my opinion, ‘lack of smartphones in the market’ is not the only reason for ‘less public awareness’ about the service, over the years). Given many phones don’t come with extensive user manuals these days, you can simply Google the model name or refer to this list provided by GSA to check the availability of AMR-WB on your device.

2- Both devices need to be connected to HD capable base station

Both the caller and receiver need to be connected to the HD Voice capable base station of their respective network. In Sri Lanka’s case it should be 3G/HSPA stations of Dialog and Etisalat since both networks support HD Voice over 3G/HSPA network. (Instead of GSM(2G) or LTE).

Does that mean you need to be connected HSPA (Data)?

No. Actually some media outlets have reported that you have to be connected to 3G (as in data) to experience this. Even Etisalat’s media report claims you need to be ‘connected to 3G’ – but what they actually mean is that you need to be connected to a 3G capable  base station.

This should not be confused with VoLTE or Voice over LTE which puts voice and data in a single radio layer. Here calls are carried over IP technology (same as data) instead of circuit switched path (regular calls) used in HSPA networks like Dialog or Etisalat. VoLTE supporting networks are currently limited  to 8 worldwide, and VoLTE supporting device are limited too. LTE offered by Sri Lankan networks is limited to data only at the moment. (i.e – you can’t make voice calls when your network mode is set to ‘LTE Only’ on Dialog or Mobitel)

Again, just because your carrier supports HD voice does not mean they support it all around the country. Reason is, there are places that have only GSM(2G) base stations instead of HSPA ones. So if your device is connected to a 3G base station and your friend’s is not, even though you both have compatible devices, then you will not be able to experience it.

Interoperability: Another less publicised, but very important requirement for HD Voice is that when the call involves two different networks, they both need to be using HD Voice on compatible network modes in-order for HD Voice to work. (Wait, what?) Yes, that is because HD Voice technology is not inter-operable at the moment. At the time of writing, as I mentioned above, both Etisalat and Dialog support HD voice on their HSPA network. But, I have not got enough data that confirms that both networks are compatible with each other. Which means there is a chance that caller and receiver need to be on the same network to experience the feature. The problem widely exists in the US since different networks support HD Voice in different modes like GSM, CDMA and LTE. And not many devices are compatible with all these modes. Now, you know why HD Voice has not got great public attention over the years. That is because not many people have been able to experience it even though they have a compatible phone and they are on a compatible network.

Growth of HD Voice (Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

Growth of HD Voice
(Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

So that brings us to the important question…is HD Voice another gimmick?

I will safely say it is not. It has been practically proved that HD Voice improves user experience by increasing call quality and reducing background noises. (Simply do a YouTube search to check some demos). In my opinion it should be supported by default on all handsets and all networks should adopt to it. What is keeping us behind is the compatibility issues, which is a shame.

What does the future hold?

Sri Lanka has been one of the first countries to bring latest mobile innovations to public, thanks to our wonderful service providers (yes, seriously). We are one of the first to have LTE in the region. VoLTE or Voice over LTE is seen as the next big trend in voice communications. GSA says that Sri Lanka is actually testing this service. I foresee a future where major networks in Sri Lanka adopt to VoLTE that provides seamless connectivity and HD Voice on the same platform without any hassle. It is always good to be optimistic!

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A look back at the digital journey of Starbucks as mobile payments makes its headway.

Starbucks is undoubtedly at the forefront in terms of technological advancement. The company’s mobile payment system is considered as one of the most successful solutions offered by a retail chain in the world. Mobile and gift card payments now account for over 30% of total U.S. payments for Starbucks. Nearly 10 Million customers now pay through the mobile app of Starbucks which brings in about 5 Million transactions a week. In 2012, purchases through Starbucks’ mobile app were $250 Million and recent studies revealed that it reached $1 Billion range last year.

February 2008 was a significant landmark for the global coffee chain. Starbucks closed all its stores in United States to train their staff after identifying many weaknesses. It was a very tough decision for then CEO Howard Schultz who made a comeback to take active control of the company he built from scratch. It was with great patience that Schultz progressed with the initiative of rebuilding the core values of Starbucks. Though the decision was heavily criticized by Wall Street media, focus on enhancing customer experience has brought tremendous success.

In this success journey, improvements to the digital experience has been pivotal for the Seattle based company. The stepping stone for the digital journey was the launch of “My Starbucks Reward” program in 2009. A closed loop mobile app was launched in 2011 as an initial effort with the basic functionality of making payments by redeeming the reward points with the Smartphone. This was facilitated through a barcode mechanism linked to the Starbucks card account. Since then, many services were introduced around the rewards platform which uplifted the customer experience.

In this success journey, improvements to the digital experience has been pivotal for the Seattle based company.

As Starbucks felt responding to the changes in the external tech environment is vital for the continued success, a new role of Chief Digital Officer was created in 2012. This move gave Starbucks a great opportunity to work on digital developments continuously. Starbucks soon identified the increasing use of mobile wallet based solutions among its customers. In order to facilitate mobile based credit and debit card payments, Starbucks entered into a partnership with digital payment startup Square Inc in 2012. Square is a simple digital wallet solution which was Co-founded by Jack Dorsey who also Co-founded Twitter. The partnership came in the form of a funding of $25 Million by Starbucks which made CEO Schultz a board member of Square. Proving the predictions of Schultz right, the Square wallet has complemented the usage of existing Starbucks payment systems. However, Schultz left Square’s board late 2013 and was replaced by a former Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer.

Starbucks-iPhone-app-teaser-004

Over the years, Starbucks has created what Schultz call as a “3rd place” between home and work place for its customers. This symbolizes that customer retention has been considered as a top priority. Similar to customer retention, creating stickiness in a mobile payment service is a big challenge for many solution providers across the world. This is where Starbucks has taken an edge over most of its peers.

Another wise move of Starbucks was that they were prepared to cater to both traditional customers who prefer card based reward redemptions and tech savvy mobile users.

Enabling mobile payment stickiness demands high level of effort from the company to create constant interaction with its users. The distinctiveness of Starbucks solution is that it has used the reward platform, social media, in store experience to complement the payment mechanism. The reward program is a big draw and the mobile app has brought in a gaming experience to it. Each time a customer grab a grande they earn a digital star. Five stars get them to the green level, which is good for free refills and coupons. When they have collected 30 stars they become eligible for a free drink for every 12 and more bonus offers.

Another wise move of Starbucks was that they were prepared to cater to both traditional customers who prefer card based reward redemptions and tech savvy mobile users. The creation of proprietary world class digital mobile payment and card technology today has placed Starbucks in a strong position. There are more than 7 Million active Starbucks reward cards in the U.S. The company launched the cards in China early this year and reported that the card has been well received.

Thriving on these innovations, the latest addition was the “Digital Tipping” feature on its mobile app for Apple users. This service was launched in March this year for its customers in US, UK and Canada. Customers using the app have the option to leave a tip for the baristas through their mobile at more than 7,000 stores. Starbucks reports that this feature would further expand the digital experience of customers and stimulate mobile usage for transactions which is currently at 11%.

Starbucks reports that it has lot more in their pipeline in terms of technological application to enhance customer experience. These services are also supported by its existing initiatives such as augmented reality app, wireless charging at the outlets and “Tweet a Coffee” campaigns. Managing these initiatives while serving 60 Million customers a week through nearly 20,000 stores across the world is a challenging task. The case of Starbucks is a great example to symbolize how mobile payments can attract customer interest and improve stickiness when offered in connection with related other facilities.

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Can the search engine giant make a leap with its payment tool by adding it to the wearable device?

Google recently reported that it is testing possibilities of incorporating Google Wallet in to Google Glass which is set to be launched soon. According to the sources, this would enable the Glass users to transfer money through the wallet with a simple voice command “Send Money”. With Google’s recent move of enabling a similar facility for Gmail users, this would be an additional access medium to the money transfer facility.

In order to install the wallet service to the Glass, users are currently required to log in to a computer on Google’s corporate network. Thereafter, users could install the wallet to the wearable device to set up to transact. Google is expecting to charge 2.9% of the transaction value or 30 Cents (whichever is higher) for these money transfers. Currently this would facilitate transfers up to $10,000 per transaction and $50,000 over a period of five days.

What is Google Wallet?

Wallet-pic1

Google wallet is a virtual mobile wallet which stores payment information securely and enables users to make speedy payments both in store and online. Google wallet users can store their credit, debit, loyalty and gift cards in this wallet and make payments using their mobile phones. The wallet uses Near Field Communication (NFC) technology which enables users to make the payment by simply tapping the phone on the enabled check out terminals.

Wallet-pic2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google’s tough journey with the wallet

Since launch of the application in 2011, similar to other mobile wallet service providers, Google also has faced with many challenges with regards to user adoption to the service. Though Google has been able to create awareness about the service, active usage has been at low levels due to various reasons. Realizing the growth potential of mobile payments market, Google has tried various different approaches to improve user adaption and seems to be continuing it with this latest move. The approaches have mainly been through using tactics of improving access medium and promoting individual service functionalities.

Wallet-pic3

Google wallet is the second popular digital wallet in US after PayPal

Inconsistency among retailers, lack of awareness on availability of the service at retail points and less usage of the mobile for payments were few key challenges Google faced with the service. In order to overcome these barriers, in late 2012 Google introduced a physical Google wallet card to its customers. This enabled users to link all other major credit, debit and loyalty cards to this and use at any accepted outlet.

In addition to facilitating payments, peer to peer money transfer is a key feature of a mobile wallet service. Google launched this service by enabling it to Gmail users in May 2013. The service was structured by linking the wallet to a bank account or a credit card. Fund transfers between users were made free of charge.

Wallet-pic4

Considering the financial aspect of wallet project, there has been many serious concerns as Google had made significant investments to employ hundreds of dedicated developers and acquire digital payment start-ups but failed to make expected returns. Analysis conducted in mid-2013 revealed that Google was losing money on every transaction. The head of wallet business Osama Bedier also left the company last year and Google abandoned several projects related to the wallet.

Considering the current stance of the concept, building the ecosystem around the wallet remains as a priority for Google as pressures from Apple is also likely to occur with its intentions to enter the mobile payments market. Mobile payments market is growing rapidly across the world and in US it is expected to reach $90 billion by 2017.

It would be interesting to study the progress of the wallet with its introduction to Google Glass as it enables greater convenience to transact. However, making a leap with this would be questionable as the wearable device would reach the mass with various other new functionalities.

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Central Bank of Sri Lanka released its annual report for the year 2013 revealing statistics about the economic and the industry conditions of the country. As per the statistics provided by Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the gross inflows to the computer and information services sub sector increased by 7.2 per cent in the year 2013 which means that the industry has been growing at a significant rate. The annual report also reveals that the gross inflow from the IT, BPO and KPO industries account for USD 604 billion indicating that there is lot more to be done, in terms of achieving the industry revenue target of USD 1 Billion by 2016.

Nevertheless, the annual report of Central Bank of Sri Lanka acknowledges that Software and Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) such as BPO and KPO  have emerged as a sector with high growth potential in Sri Lanka, generating significant inflows in 2013 compared to the previous year. Further, it also states that Sri Lanka has been able to win the ‘Outsourcing  Destination of the Year’ by the National Outsourcing Association (NOA), UK in October 2013 as a result of increased inflows to the country. In addition to these factors, Sri Lanka is recognized for having the ability to produce skilled human resources needed for Information Technology (IT),  BPO and KPO sectors.

Considering the activities of the government to support the IT, BPO and KPO industry,  the government has put  forward a proposal to facilitate corporate entities engaged in BPO services while offering a 5-year half tax holiday for the new companies who are establishing operations. In addition to this, a project proposal was made to develop an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Zone at Hambantota as the emerging ICT Hub of South Asia.

Download the full report here

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Last month we reported how 2013 became the year that saw annual smartphone sales surpass that of feature phones, globally. Well, that may not be reflected in the Sri Lankan market yet, but smartphone sales are surely on the rise in Sri Lanka, according to the latest quarterly Sri Lanka Mobile Handset Market Review by leading Market Intelligence and Advisory firm CyberMedia Research.

As of today, there are already more LTE-based devices shipped into Sri Lanka than India!

Compared to 2012, smartphone sales (percentage of number of units) in Sri Lanka have seen 80% year-on-year growth, according to the report. There are multiple reasons for this exceptional growth. More and more people are moving to smartphones. Communication, Social Networking and workplace productivity play a huge role in this move. This is fueled by the increasing number of “affordable” smartphones available in the market now. Mobile service providers are also investing more on launching and promoting smartphones with special offers and services, especially on the “data” front. The chart below will give you an idea on the changing trend in mobile phone sales in Sri Lanka. The rise in smartphone sales have clearly contributed to the decline of feature-phone sales, even though feature-phones still maintain the highest number of sales in the local market.

Nokia is still king of feature-phones

According to the CMR’s report, Nokia ended the year 2013 with 27.3% of feature phone market share which was enough to retain the top spot. Nokia was followed by global market leader Samsung in the second place and Micromax in the third spot. Interestingly Samsung had a bigger competitor in Micromax in the local market, when it comes to feature phones. The market share margin between the two brands was less than 1%. This is also evident by the fact that Micromax actually sold remarkably higher number of feature phones than Samsung in the 4th Quarter of 2013. Micromax had 21.4% market share in Q4 2013 (up from 16.1% in Q3 2013) compared to Samsung’s Q4 2013 market share of 12% (down from 17.4% in Q3 2013).

Samsung remains market leader of smartphones

When it comes to smartphones, Samsung showed its global dominance in the local market too, by leading the list with a comfortable 37.7% of market share. But one should also note that Samsung’s  Q4 2013 share (21.2%) is noticeably lower than its Q3 2013 share of 39%. We are not aware of the exact reason that could have affected the sales, but we guess it’s due to availability of larger number of smartphone options from different players at highly competitive price points. Huawei followed Samsung in the second spot with 11.9% of market share while Micromax, with 10.3% share ended up at the 3rd place. But if you take Q4 2013 alone, it’s E-Tel which took the 3rd spot (16.1%) beating Micromax. Introduction of multiple Android powered smartphones at relatively cheaper price points might have contributed to the success of E-Tel.

The future looks bright for smartphones

As you can see in the charts, quite a large amount of market share was dominated by brands/vendors who could not make it to the top 3 list. For instance, Nokia has been promoting affordable Windows Phone devices as of late. Launch of Android powered Nokia X series will also give Nokia a chance to shine in the smartphone department in 2014. It should also be noted that a large number of Sri Lankans use Apple iPhones. Recently Dialog Axiata became an authorized seller for iPhones. Even though we could not find any reliable data on Apple’s market share in Sri Lanka, we can be certain that it is fast becoming one of the widely used smartphones in Sri Lanka. Samsung’s latest flagship, the Galaxy S5 and LG’s G Flex are also expected to launch in Sri Lanka, in days to come.

According to CMR’s analysts, “the share of entry level smartphones in the Sri Lankan market is expected to increase, along with a matching uptake in 3G and 4G data consumption”. They also expect more Indian handset brands to enter Sri Lankan market this year. To quote a more interesting fact from the report – “as of today, there are already more LTE-based devices shipped into Sri Lanka than India!”. CMR’s analyst said that “this reflects the technological advancement achieved by the island nation’s market”

Source: CMR’s Sri Lanka’s Mobile Handset Market Review – 4Q 2013, March 2014 Release and 3Q 2013, December 2013 Release

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Dialog eZ Cash has become the world’s first fully integrated mobile money service after joining hands with Etisalat, another leading mobile service provider in Sri Lanka. There were speculations from last month about this landmark deal which has been in works from last year, after Dialog announced that the next phase of eZ Cash service is to expand it to other service providers. Even the outgoing Etisalat CEO Dumindra Ratnayaka recently said in a local interview that Etisalat is considering joining hands with eZ Cash and mCash, for mobile banking solutions, rather than starting their own service. And yesterday, the two companies hosted a joint press briefing where they officially announced the expansion of the service, after relevant approvals were obtained from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

According to GSMA, there are more than 225 mobile money deployments around the world, as of March 2014. And this is the first time that such a partnership has been formed between two rival service providers to deliver end to end interoperable mobile money service. Speaking at the press meet, operations expert from the GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked programme, Gerald Rasugu stressed the importance of awareness on the mobile money/ mobile banking initiatives to the general public.

eZ Cash: Introduction and Current Status

Dialog, Sri Lanka’s leading mobile service provider launched the revolutionary eZ Cash service around 2 years ago, approved by CBSL under the payments and settlements act No.28 of 2005. I used to have a personal blog at that time and did a post on how eZ Cash works on any USSD enabled mobile phones. You can check it out here. eZ Cash turns your mobile phone into a secure mobile wallet, and allows you to make transactions or send and receive money around the country. Last year when the service completed its first anniversary, the GSMA published a detailed infographic showing the growth of eZ Cash in Sri Lanka. According to that, Dialog – the market leader in Sri Lanka has around 8 million mobile subscribers and Etisalat, third in line in terms of market shares boasts more than 4.5 million subscribers.

The new partnership will bring the eZ Cash service to around 12.5 million Sri Lankans around the country, which by number, is equivalent to more than 60% of the Sri Lankan population. Last June, Dialog announced 1 million registered users for the eZ Cash service out of which 20% were active users. Dialog also reported that they handled Rs.6 Billion worth of transactions last year and currently they are processing Rs.700 million worth of transactions per month. These numbers are bound to rise with Etisalat joining the club. Speaking at the press conference, Dr. Hans Wijesuriya, Group CEO of Dialog Axiata PLC, thanked the CBSL for maintaining open regulations that let to the success of the eZ Cash service.

For The New Users: What Can You Do With Ez Cash

Dialog eZ Cash allows anyone to send and receive money through mobile phones. One can top up for eZ Cash at any merchants and then send the money to anyone around the country. The receiver has the ability to withdraw the money at a similar merchant outlet. This hassle free method also becomes useful to those who can’t utilize the conventional banking facilities. eZ Cash model offers more secure and widely available service options. (Verification PINs are sent to the user’s handset before completing the transactions). Ez cash also allows the users to pay various bills including utility bills (CEB, NWSDB etc). It also gives the option to pay insurance premiums through mobile phones. The service provides secure option for users to make payments for their online purchases. There are also more than 100 partner merchants who accept eZ Cash payments. Dialog also has a dedicated hotline (7111) for eZ Cash. They have also launched a very informative website for the service as well as an Android app for ease of use on smartphones.

How Does The New Inter-Operable Model Works?

As you already know, eZ Cash services can be accessed through #111# USSD commands on the mobile phones. Etisalat subscribers who register for the eZ Cash service will be able to use the same method to perform the transactions. The USSD menu will consist of the same options which are offered for Dialog customers. The user experience will not be affected for different service providers. Even the costs (service charges) born by customers will be the same. Dialog currently has over 16000 eZ Cash merchants around the country. It will continue to remain responsible for managing this agent network, while adding any customer service networks of the new providers on request. As a first step Dialog has added the flagship stores of Etisalat that are located around the country, and selected service points to this network. Dialog will also manage overall customer service issues that arise during the transactions. But Etisalat will be requested to look into any issues faced by customers they bring into the service. Hatton National Bank continues to act as the custodian bank for the service and the service will be further secured by a trust agreement administered by Deutsche Bank. A third party service provider like KPMG or PWC will act as a Customer Profile Manager in between the eZ Cash platform and Etisalat.

eZ Cash: World's First Inter-operable Mobile Money Service (Pic. Courtesy: GSMA)

eZ Cash: World’s First Inter-operable Mobile Money Service (Pic. Courtesy: GSMA)

There will also be a revenue share agreement between Dialog and any other provider joining hands with them – in this case, Etisalat. Accordingly, Etisalat will be sharing the transaction revenue from the eZ Cash service with Dialog,

1- for using the eZ Cash brand which has been established and marketed by Dialog

2- for making use of the eZ Cash platform built by Dialog and

3- for benefiting from the already established & managed Dialog merchant network

On Dialog’s side, they will be getting additional revenue and wider user base for their eZ Cash platform. And from Etisalat’s point they get to offer mobile banking service to their customer base at a fraction of a cost that they would have encountered to deploy their own service.

Looking at the customer base numbers after the new partnership, eZ Cash service looks less challenged by the competitor mCash service offered by Mobitel. But it is also notable that outgoing Etisalat CEO recently noted that they are also considering to join hands with mCash along with eZ Cash, though I’m not sure whether there will be any need to proceed with that move.

Challenges and Future

The primary challenge I noticed when the service was first announced, was the adaptability issues faced by merchants. The merchants were reluctant to allow customers to withdraw money since the business model was new and strange. But Dialog had taken much efforts to educate merchants on the benefits of the service.

According to experts, there are more than 225 mobile banking services deployed in various ,markets. It shows the growing trend of mCommerce. But it is notable that many of the services around the world are facing adaptability issues due to various reasons and Dialog’s interoperable model is expected to be adopted by many other service providers around the globe.

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We have been listening to the word ‘Startup’ more often these days, haven’t we? Well, what’s a start-up? A start-up is nothing more than starting a company on your own, being an entrepreneur and taking risks. Some people might get the idea “two foreign guys in a garage”, just like the most success stories out there. But then we also have our local experts, who have excelled starting their own business.

_MG_0753“Getting a startup going on is very risky. At times you get emotionally involved” said Manoj Ranaweera, who has founded many startups, such as Techcelerate in UK and was down in Sri Lanka when this forum took place. He said, having an MBA gives you overconfidence and that is what happened to him when he was struggling to get up on his own.

“It is a myth that all the businesses from Silicon Valley will take over the world. In UK, it is harder than San Francisco, and in Sri Lanka, it is much harder to start a start-up and keep going.” – Manoj

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And then we also had Shakya Lahiru Pathmalal, who is the Founder and CEO of takas.lk. To inspire the gathering, Shakya shared some tips he followed. “If you can’t connect with people, if you don’t know what your investors are interested in, you are doing it wrong. You need to really brush up on the story before pitching.” He also suggested that you pitch to your family before you pitch to your investors, so that you can think through your business model according to their feedback.

“Believe in what you do while being honest. Investment doesn’t come only in the form of Rupees, but you make lifelong friends as well” Lahiru concluded with that note.

Jeevan Gnanam was next up to present his speech. Being an Angel Investor, Director at SAKS and SLASSCOM which is the leading IT body in the country and CEO of Orion City as well as St. Antony’s Industries Group. Orion City was started because there was a lack of proper IT ecosystem in Sri Lanka. ‘Lankan Angel Network funds and inspires start-ups. Having created that, it is great to see that Startup ecosystem is growing in SL’, said Jeevan.

“Don’t be afraid to fail, but get used to it and get up, quick.” a tip by Jeevan.

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Once the main speakers were done with their presentations, we moved on to a Panel Discussion where the speakers touched on some delicate matters which were raised by the audience. “I suppose I have a very expensive taste. Essentially this gave me two options, a calculated decision was taken into consideration which led me to create takas.lk” – Lahiru.

“Whether we like it or not, our parents make decisions for us for our betterment. We need more people here in Sri Lanka to take chances at a very young age. This is the lesson I have learnt from Manchester, UK” – Manoj.

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“Do more, with less. We have at least 5-6 new competition every year. Ecosystem is lacking mentorship, people giving time rather than money is more valuable these days” – Jeevan.

The first panel discussion was followed by another panel discussion consisting of Ruwindhu Peiris, Anushka Wijesinha, Fayaz Hudah and Deshal De Mel. Manoj moderated the session. Issues were raised and addressed. For instance, PayPal issue. “I agree, there are things to be done from government’s end as well, such as PayPal. It is important that Government make these things feasible. Government has the role of creating the ecosystem” – Deshal.

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Time was running out and a cocktail session was awaiting all of us. The crowd dispersed after having some refreshments while networking and enhancing their understanding about proper mechanism of starting a start-up.

Catch-up with archived live blog post here. Also check the photo album which can be found here.

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Lean Startup Machine is a workshop and an educational series focused on teaching Start-up  founders through a process of case studies and hands-on mentoring. The workshop is conducted throughout three days and though it is a very short amount of time to reliably validate a new product or a service concept, it is enough time to get a significant amount of work done.
Many Start-up founders have benefited from Lean Startup Machine and the best way to look at all their reviews and testimonials is to do a Google Search. Let me do that for you (No irony intended!) LSM sends their expert facilitators and also invest in product and curriculum development, which can make a huge impact on an early stage Start-up environment like Sri Lanka.

Lean Startup Machine is designed to be a challenge for both the experienced and inexperienced entrepreneur. Essentially, you will get as much value out of it as the effort you put in.
What you have to do right now is to vote and get Lean Startup Machine to host one of their events in Sri Lanka. You can start by signing up and voting here

Contributed By: Aloka Gunasekara