Zambia hints at fifth telco operator

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Thursday, Feb 20th

Equity Bank's thin SIM tech on the horizon

Equity Bank's thin SIM tech on the horizon.

Kenyan citizens can soon expect to access Equity Bank's ultra-thin SIM technology following a high court ruling on Friday, 29 May 2015.

Equity is the largest bank in East Africa with more than 10 million bank customers.

Speaking to ITWeb Africa John Staley, chief officer for finance, innovation and technology at Equity Bank said they still have another court case scheduled for 11 June 2015, but they expect it to go in their favour following the Kenyan high court's decision.

Equity, which won a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) licence last year, partnered with Taiwanese headquartered Taisys to launch thin SIMs for one year in the East African nation.

According to Taisys the thin SIMs can be 'stuck' onto existing SIM cards and "then be used to execute mobile banking transactions, releasing the bank from the limitations of a telco-issued banking SIM."

Speaking on the sidelines Staley said that they plan to roll-out the technology "fairly soon".

"I can't give the exact date but we are confident it will be in the next few months," he said

Security concerns

Equity's plans to roll-out the thin SIM technology has been met with much resistance especially from Kenya's leading mobile operator, Safaricom, as it would rival its M-Pesa mobile money service.

Safaricom issued a complaint to the Communications Authority (CA) arguing that risks such as PIN theft and denial of service could occur with the thin-SIMs.

However, Staley said much of the resistance towards the technology comes from Safaricom as they see it as a threat to what they are doing.

"We understood all along that we weren't going to displace the Safaricom SIM card. They've got better coverage than everyone else and they've got M-Pesa," he said.

"We needed to look for a technology where we could give affordable secure mobile banking to our customers and the only way you can do that is by one controlling the channel yourself because USSD is a very cheap channel. If you can control the USSD channel then you don't have to charge your customers, they can do banking for free from a telecommunications point of view.

"The other aspect is security. You have to be able to do transactions securely and in order to do that you need encryption keys and the only place where encryption keys are sitting on most phones is on the SIM card," he explained.

As a bank we had to get control of the SIM card in order to provide affordable, secure mobile banking, he said.

Staley also noted that they are not only looking to rival Safaricom in Kenya, rather they plan to provide the thin SIM technology across the East African region.

"We're targeting a 100 million customers and every single one of those customers will be able to send money, buy goods, and pay utility bills.

"Safaricom and M-Pesa cannot really grow out of Kenya... We're very excited because we think we can create the 'M-Pesa' of East Africa, of Africa and we can do it on an interoprable basis," he said.

Staley was a guest speaker at the Mondato Summit Africa currently taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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