Zimfon: A call-home platform for diaspora

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THE mobile phone space is going through transformation from innovations that transcend national and international boundaries.

The Human Capital Telescope with Brett Chulu

Zimbabwean entrepreneurs are exploiting opportunities in the mobile application arena to combine technological and business model innovations. Zimfon is one such recently launched innovation.

The writer (Chulu) caught up with Gerry Dumani (Dumani), founder and president of Zimfon, a US-based Voice-over Internet Protocol service provider (VoIP), targeting Zimbabwe’s diaspora.

Zimfon allows registered users to make voice calls over the internet using devices such as smartphones and tablet computers for rates as low as 6 US cents per minute. We discussed the concept of Zimfon, its business model, value proposition and distribution model, among other issues. Find below excerpts of the interview:

Chulu: You are a Zimbabwean living in the diaspora. In very simple and non-technical terms, what is the concept of Zimfon?
Dumani: A dedicated call-home service that offers Zimbabweans abroad an extended telephone service home and away leveraging the power of the internet. Our service is delivered to Zimbabwean communities via free Softphone Applications that can be downloaded from Google-Play, iTunes and at Zimfon.com.

Chulu: The space you have entered is already occupied by a Zimbabwean company called Africom, who recently rolled out a similar service called Guro-o. Guro-o charges 6 US cents per minute for Guro-o to Guro-o calls. How different is Zimfon from Guro-o?
Dumani: Africom has been at the forefront of consumer VoIP delivery within the Zimbabwean space and we applaud them for taking great initiative to provide affordable services. From a price point, we are essentially capped at the same rate. However Zimfon’s core focus is to provide reliable, dedicated call-home services for non-resident Zimbabweans in key markets such as the US, UK and South Africa.

Chulu: How are people paying to use Zimfon?
Dumani: Currently we are accepting the four major cards via our e-commerce storefront at zimfon.com (Visa, MasterCard, Discover and Amex).

Chulu: It looks like you are targeting Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. Ordinary folks in Zimbabwe do not have access to these payment solutions. How are you planning to have ordinary people here access much needed low-priced voice solution?
Dumani: Plans are underway to integrate Zimbabwe’s leading payment processing gateway ZimSwitch’s v-Payments which is part of a bigger Zimbabwean banking community. The rollout will naturally permit the unbanked community to take advantage of mobile financial services such as Zippit and EcoCash.

Chulu: At 6 US cents per minute, Zimfon is still relatively overpriced when you compare with countries such as Kenya. Is there a business case for Zimfon to permanently charge rates below 6 US cents per minute?
Dumani: Price is a function of market forces. What we are seeing in markets such as Kenya, Nigeria and India are an aftermath of rapid evolution and natural response to home-grown innovation. We cannot achieve such rates if we do not adapt to technologies. The future of Zimbabwe’s telecommunication landscape will be based on a locked value strategy. Providers prepared to be disruptive will win the day as Zimbabwe is in the early phase of a telecom bubble. The next few years will be marked by a lot of acquisitions and market re-organisation.

Chulu: It’s the ordinary people here in Zimbabwe who want to get a call from a loved one in the diaspora. They would need a smartphone to be able to use Zimfon. Smartphones are not yet affordable to the majority of Zimbabweans. How are you planning to bridge access viz- a -viz price?
Dumani: We are working with our local Zimbabwean network partners to launch a smartphones “Our For All Programme” which will allow Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to purchase devices through Zimfon at competitive prices for family and friends in Zimbabwe. These devices can be picked up in Zimbabwe through our local partner’s distribution network.

Chulu: Is Zimfon purely a voice service? Are there any other value-added services (VAS)?
Dumani: Zimfon is led by some of the brightest young minds in the Next Generation Telco space and voice is just the beginning. We have projects underway with a local mobile network operator to facilitate mobile financial remittances through our diaspora network and we are looking forward to setting trends.

Chulu: Communication technology is increasingly disrespecting national and international boundaries. How big a threat are innovations such as Zimfon to the voice business of our local mobile network operators (MNOs)?
Dumani: I don’t necessarily consider this a threat but an opportunity for MNOs to respond to innovation with diversification and grow their VAS portfolios. What technology does is sow a seed for the future by disrupting the old. Technologies such as Zimfon are here to stay and the natural progression is to chip away revenues by providing the proverbial switch. MNOs will need to decide whether they will make their money from mobile termination or bandwidth consumption (broadband). Today’s consumer is bandwidth hungry and to me this is where the future of money is.

Chulu: Who is Gerry Dumani?
Dumani: I am a tech evangelist making a difference in Africa through technologies.
Chulu is a strategic HR consultant pioneering in innovative strategic HR practices in listed and unlisted companies in Zimbabwe.

Email: chulu@consultant.com

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