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Cell C, Starlogik deal set to jolt SA’s prepaid market

To roll out what it calls the ‘first totally free virtual cellular offering’.
Image: Moneyweb

Starlogik, a US-headquartered telecommunications specialist with its roots in South Africa, has partnered with Cell C to roll out what it calls the “first totally free virtual cellular offering”.

Utilises intelligent cloud-based switching, the product offering removes the need for consumers to send a “please call me” when they don’t have airtime, or to keep a minimum balance to place a “missed call” to someone they want to phone them back. Instead, they place a call as normal, it connects and rings on the called party’s phone, and then disconnects, with no airtime required. The called party receives a notification about the “missed call” and can then opt to return the call, obviously at their cost.

According to a Starlogik spokesman, the solution removes significant friction in the prepaid market, leading to greater utilisation of network infrastructure.

The technology routes Cell C subscribers who have a minimal or zero prepaid balance to a cloud-based switch that’s owned and operated by Starlogik.

“There are about two billion people in the world who are excluded from being able to communicate because they cannot afford to put credit on their phone,” the Starlogik spokesman said.

Cell C launched Starlogik’s StarCall offering a year ago, allowing its customers to tap the “star” key on their handset followed by the number they wished to call, with the call then routed instantly off the Cell C network to Starlogik’s virtual switch. The switch then pinged the recipient with a one-second ring, giving them the option to return the “missed call”.

Cell C has now deployed Starlogik’s new offering, called StarZRO, which removes the need to dial “star” before placing the call. Those customers with zero airtime balance can set up a call and (hopefully) have it returned.

Starlogik’s solution is entirely cloud based, with no changes needed to the operator’s core network. The service has already attracted more than 10 million active users on Cell C’s network and generated over a billion connections, reaching over 50 million dialled mobile numbers. “StarZRO creates connections, callbacks and conversations that ordinarily would not occur, keeping our customers in touch when their airtime is exhausted,” said Cell C CEO Douglas Craigie Stevenson in a statement shared with TechCentral.

200 million calls a month

More than 50% of calls placed by Cell C prepaid customers using the Starlogik platform are returned, the Starlogik spokesman said. Some 75% of Cell C prepaid subscribers with low or zero-balance airtime use the service – amounting to 1.5 million unique daily active users, generating close to 200 million calls a month.

Starlogik said it has switched 22 billion calls across its infrastructure since the company launched commercial services with operator partners about two years ago. It is now switching about two billion calls a month, it said.

Its focus is on emerging markets, and it has signed operator deals in Nigeria and several markets in Latin America. It described the service as a “cellular lifeline for the unconnected” – those who struggle to maintain a positive airtime balance. Previously, consumers had to maintain a positive balance to place a “missed call”. They’d have to listen for the ring and hang up before the calling party answered. Starlogik said its solution changes this behaviour.

“We have taken an age-old analogue behaviour and digitised that entire process,” the spokesman said. “It creates a new norm in billing; it’s a pivot of the prepaid billing engine that has been accepted as the status quo for the past 20 years.”

In effect, the company’s solution is a cloud-based “network abstraction” – it sits a layer above the network. There’s no hardware or infrastructure to be installed by operators. “It’s IP switching and signalling; the logic is all server-side in the cloud,” the spokesman said.

Starlogik has its origins in South Africa, and emerged from the innovation arm of MTN. Now headquartered in the US, the company describes itself as operating in the “converged space between cellular and Internet ecosystems”.

“Starlogik’s mission is to profitably connect and impact the lives of roughly half the world’s population, those at or near the base of the socioeconomic pyramid.”

Founded in 2011, it has a global patent portfolio, mainly in advanced telecoms signalling and switching, and has a presence in South Africa, the US, Israel, Brazil, China, India and Nigeria.

Duncan McLeod is Editor of TechCentral, on which this article was first published here.

© 2021 NewsCentral Media

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