Mobile network operator Digicel has teamed up with Redknee, a provider of real-time monetization and subscriber management software, to enable its customers in Papua New Guinea to buy prepaid electricity top-ups using their mobile phones.
Working in partnership with PNG Power (the country’s state-owned vertical utility company), Digicel and Redknee provided an alternative solution to the existing prepaid electricity voucher top-up payment method, where rural customers had to travel long distances to vending sites that were only available during business hours. This was time consuming, costly and inconvenient for the customer.
Using ‘Easipawa Easipay’ – Papua New Guinea’s first electricity vending system – Digicel’s customers can replenish their balances at any time from their handsets. Energy customers enter their meter number and the amount of electricity they require, receive an SMS message confirmation, and the payment is deducted directly from their Digicel airtime balance. Digicel’s postpaid customers can also take advantage of the prepaid electricity service and any energy purchases are added to their monthly bill. Each top-up attracts a small transaction fee, which is paid by the customer.
Redknee’s convergent real-time billing platform, which Digicel has been using for several years to support its prepaid and postpaid voice, messaging and mobile data services, is the key technology enabler for the new service. Redknee’s solution includes USSD and an SMS gateway and handles the routing for top-up requests, credit management and voucher delivery for the end customer.
The Easipawa Easipay service illustrates how mobile operators can use their networks and modern, flexible software platforms to monetise new digital services. “The utilities sector and other verticals such as health and transportation are increasingly providing avenues for communications service providers to increase customer loyalty, increase revenues and improve profitability,” remarked Lucas Skoczkowski, CEO at Redknee.
According to Digicel’s CEO John Mangos, the operator achieved a positive return in under 18 months on its investment in extending the Redknee system to enable customers to use their mobile airtime to buy prepaid electricity units. The service has rapidly become popular, and now accounts for over 60% of the country’s prepaid electricity purchases.
Most domestic electricity customers in Papua New Guinea are connected to Easipay prepayment meters, and PNG Power plans to replace all its remaining credit meters in a bid to improve revenue collection. Meter bypassing and power theft are widespread, and an estimated 30% of power generated by PNG Power is being used illegally, including by commercial users. In early January, the government began a clamp-down on bill non-payment and unlawful usage, declaring a controversial ‘state of emergency’ in the electricity sector.