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  • Mark Zanders

More than Text. Communicating to Solve Problems.

The views portrayed in the More than Text article are report are based upon individual research and are current as of March 14th, 2020. While all material is deemed to be reliable, accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed.


Several fascinating topics came under discussion during our meetings in Nairobi. One is USSD. Unstructured Supplementary Service Data. USSD is a Global System for Mobile Communications Global System for Communication protocol that is used to send text messages. As a quick insight statement, USSD is similar to Short Message Service or commonly known as (SMS).


What fascinated me during our discussions was the functionality especially as it related to solving some of our entrepreneurs’ problems.  USSD messages are up to 182 alphanumeric characters long. Unlike Short Message Service (SMS) messages, USSD messages create a real-time connection during a USSD session. The connection remains open, allowing a two-way exchange of a sequence of data. This makes USSD more responsive than services that use SMS. The functionality is important to understand in dissecting payment solutions. In common cases, USSD involves a query from a mobile phone user, such as a request for a bank account balance. Once the user sends the request, the USSD gateway forwards it to the user's USSD application, which responds to the request. The process also works in reverse. Generally, the responses, which contain a maximum of 182 alphanumeric characters, are sent in a format that's easy to display. The user sends and receives data by dialing a specific short code -- usually, five numbers. USSD applications run on the network, not on a user's device. As such, they don't have to be installed on the user's phone, which is an advantage for users with feature phones that have limited storage space. USSD apps are instantly available to every subscriber the moment that they are issued to a network.


Without spoiling all of the fun, USSD can be utilized on the following:


  • Mobile banking. Straightforward, you don’t need a smartphone. Unlike banking apps that need internet access and smartphone functionality, USSD banking can work on any mobile device.

  • Order confirmations. As an example, food delivery is a growing sector. Providers can use USSD to enable two-way communication between customers placing orders and the vendors to alert customers when their orders are on the way.

  • Coupons and vouchers. Retailers can communicate special offers to customers, as well as send coupons and vouchers via USSD.

  • Callback services. No one enjoys sitting on hold. Service organizations that experience high call volume can use USSD to request callbacks.

  • Marketing surveys.  Mobile marketing is already happening. However, it is truly producing results. USSD can allow organizations to send basic marketing surveys.

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