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Why USSD on mobile devices is here to stay

USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Services Data) is a simple and efficient data bearer that allows access to 100 per cent of mobile devices.

From basic phones to smartphones without any need for mobile data access, USSD messages travel over GSM signalling channels and are used to query information and trigger services. While USSD is typically used by prepaid users to top up and manage their accounts, it is used for many other services worldwide.

USSD is menu-driven, and therefore much more interactive than SMS, in pull or push mode (ability to push a menu to a mobile phone). USSD notifications and menus can dramatically improve the user’s experience, giving you the ability to quickly and cost-effectively send essential and useful alerts to engage in interaction and send important information. Whilst SMS has been used and abused, and often subject to spam and associated regulations, USSD is free from these issues.

USSD adds trust to users both consumers for e-commerce and social media use. Unlike SMS, USSD notifications and menus are not stored on the device, which makes it safer for storing secure passwords or other sensitive information. This makes it an ideal bearer for Mobile Money, which allows people who typically do not have a bank account to make payments and purchases.

USSD importance is greater in a social media age where millions of feature phone users can gain interaction into these channels, which were previously not available to them.

USSD is important within the emerging economies as it is accessible from any mobile phone, with no need for data access. This is important because, although smartphone penetration and 3G/4G coverage is increasing, the cost of data access is still beyond most people’s reach in emerging markets such as Latin America and Africa. GSMA estimates that today, more than seven out of ten connections are on 2G and just 50 per cent of the mobile connections will have data access in Sub Sahara Africa by 2020. They also believe that the second and third hand market of feature phone will remain strong for the next three to five years.

The continued reliability of USSD enables mobile service providers more ambition in diversifying new market segments, adding value to customers and partners through network reach and insight, as well as meet underserved customer needs.

Service providers would also help disrupt existing value chains and leverage deeper customer insights and create new demand scenarios. For merchants and retailers this improves customer loyalty and experience whilst helping to reduce transaction fees.

Fabien Delanaud, General Manager for the Sub Data Division, Myriad Group