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ICT firms scramble for slice of phonebook back up business

By By FREDRICK OBURA | Published Mon, July 30th 2012 at 00:00, Updated July 29th 2012 at 20:17 GMT +3


More than 29 million mobile phone subscribers could no longer agonise over loss of contacts or damage on their handsets. This follows the launch of new technology to back-up their contacts.

Bitz IT Consulting Ltd, a local technology firm has invested Sh5.2 million in a service that would see subscribers easily retrieve phone numbers in case the handset is stolen or data in the phonebook is erased unknowingly.

Statistics from the four leading mobile phone subscribers indicate that about 22,000 sim-cards are replaced daily in circumstances linked to mobile phone theft, sim-card misplacement, and phone damage. The figure translates to about 18 million sim-cards and numerous contacts lost within a year. “The investment is informed by the growing list of Kenyans losing crucial business, family or friends contacts whenever their phones are stolen or damaged,” said James Ng’ang’a, director of Bitz IT Consulting.

A battle for market

The launch of the service intensifies the battle for contact back up services in the mobile telephony market. Two more companies, Wingu Technologies and Safaricom are also angling for a piece of the market.

According to Ng’ang’a, Bitz IT has created an application (Maisha Poa) that allows one to remotely run another phone book similar to the one on the phone in it servers.

“The system retrieves contacts on request by the owner, it is a step to ensuring business continuity in case a phone is stolen or data erased.” Ng’ang’a says one has to send his or her name and identity card number to 2050 to download the application from the server to a phone.

“A password will be generated immediately and this is what one will use to back up, synchronise the contacts and for retrieval whenever needed,” he said in an interview.

He added that many mobile subscribers are not able to retrieve the family and business contacts, calendar, and task list among other important data that shape their daily lives whenever they loss their handset or its damaged.

Wingu Technologies Limited, a local company, last year also came up an application for retrieval of important information in a phone in abrupt incidences such as theft or damage due to mechanical problem. “M-wingu is a mobile phone application that allows individuals to back-up their phone-book contacts (name and number) and restore them in case of loss of the same” says Charles Musungu, the firm’s chief executive officer.

Gaining edge over firms

“It addresses current scenario where if you lose your handset, all the contacts and other crucial information would automatically be lost,” he says. “What providers such as Safaricom, Airtel, Orange and Yu have been able to achieve in case one loses sim-card is part of information, for instance only a number without person’s name against it, M-wingu provides both, and additional data such as calendar, to do list, messages, among other data could also be retrieved,” he says.

Safaricom is reportedly preparing to launch a new service that will allow its customers to backup all the data on their SIM cards into the cloud.

The service will ease the burden of subscribers losing or having their phones stolen by allowing for the backup and recovery of the contacts and information on their SIM card.

The new SIM backup service by Safaricom is known as “Okoa SIM”, which means “save your sim card”.It is expected that the service will be introduced to all Safaricom subscribers and will be available and supported on most mobile phones.

Subscribers’ appeal

This will help the company regain some market share as it has lost customers to some of its competitors recently as the introduction of such a service could appeal to subscribers.

Bitz IT charges about Sh30 to access the service, the expense is on a micro-billing for instance user do not necessarily have to have all the amount at a particular time to be able to register, back up or restore information.

“We have put the highest version of security checks that would only allow subscriber to the service access contacts they have backed up with us,” he says.

Ng’ang’a says they plan to inject addition Sh2 million into the system in an expansion strategy that would see the application rolled out in countries across the East African region.