How Semiconductors Make Commerce Mobile

Why do they matter? / Why should I care? / June 22, 2014

Across the African continent, internet penetration is low and laptop computers are often too expensive to purchase. But the surge in mobile phone use—powered by semiconductors—has created a simple and pervasive means of sharing information and conducting business.

Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile provider, launched M-PESA—a mobile payment system designed to make purchases, either by texting funds directly to a seller’s account or by changing phone credits into cash on the spot—in 2007. Within a year, more than 66% of Kenyans had used the service.[1]

Today, M-PESA (“pesa” means money in Swahili) has evolved into a payment platform that is pioneering new innovations to make Kenya a nearly cash-free economy. With roughly 19 million subscribers,[2] nearly 80,000 agents and 37,000 merchants, about 43% of the country’s GDP flows through the system. [3]

The success of M-PESA created demand across Africa, the Middle East, and into Asia—it now operates in South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Egypt, Afghanistan, and India. And in March, M-PESA debuted in Romania. This makes M-PESA the most successful mobile banking service in the world.

The benefits of services such as M-PESA are clear—millions of previously “unbanked” citizens can now be a part of the formal economy, substantially raising standards of living and quality of life.

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