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5 Reasons to Use Mobile Aggregators to Scale MNO Services

By Wayan Vota on August 7, 2019

mobile service aggregators

Mobile network operators (MNOs) in every country offer innovative technologies and communication channels for international development practitioners. However, humanitarian organizations’ ability to respond to rapidly evolving events is often hampered by the challenges of setting up these systems.

When the vast array of development organizations reach out individually to the various MNOs operating in each market, the large number of requests can overwhelm MNOs, and require months of negotiations to gain access to their networks. In addition, there is no opportunity for collective bargaining to secure better value and service provision for humanitarian organizations.

The Mobile Aggregator Opportunity with MNOs

Engaging with mobile aggregators presents an alternative to working with MNOs individually and reduces the complexity, cost and duration of implementation. Aggregators can offer pre-negotiated commercial and technical arrangements with multiple MNOs, allowing aid organizations to deliver services over a variety of mobile channels.

For example, aggregators can provide easy, cloud-based services to help development practitioners obtain mobile phone short codes and provide nationwide mobile services in a few hours. This is in stark contrast to the weeks and even months that negotiations with individual mobile operators currently can take.

The DIAL Guide To Using Mobile Aggregators To Deliver NGO Services At National Scale explores the role of aggregators and introduces a mapping of mobile aggregators with a significant presence in the developing world.

5 Key Advantages of Using Mobile Aggregators

Less contracting

Working with an aggregator negates the need for NGOs to learn and adapt to the different methodologies and processes each MNO requires for its contract negotiations.

Less technical integration

The same applies for technical integration. Each MNO has its own idiosyncratic implementation process requiring an NGO’s technical team or partner to integrate multiple times, presenting potential points of failure for the project.

Single point of contact for support

Even if an NGO were able to overcome the various integration and contractual challenges, it would still need to troubleshoot and address technical and other support issues across multiple MNOs. Aggregators present a much simpler, single point of contact for NGOs.

Potentially more amenable to negotiation

NGOs who previously worked with many MNOs may find advantageous pricing as they consolidate their business to work with one aggregator. Conversely, aggregators may charge a slightly higher price for their services so volume savings would have to offset this new expense.

Value-added services

In emerging markets, MNOs are typically set up to acquire and service end users, not organizations such as NGOs. Many aggregators, on the other hand, distinguish themselves by offering value-added services (e.g., subscription/content management, customer data collection, reporting) that can augment mobile channels.

Integration with other third parties

Some aggregators offer integration with other valuable third-party content, services and organizations. The most prevalent example is a mobile payments aggregator like Cellulant or Beyonic, which specializes in integrating both with mobile operators and financial institutions, as well as the myriad of different platforms on which each operate.

4 Types of Mobile Aggregators

Aggregators are typically differentiated by their services or business approaches. Below are descriptions of four different types of aggregators, distinguished by what they aggregate, how they aggregate, the service they aggregate, and whom they target.

Content aggregators

Aggregators in this category build mobile services that run across multiple MNOs. They are referred to as VAS (value-added services) or content aggregators and are by far the most common type. Examples of the services they provide include local news, sports, betting and lifestyle content.

API platform providers

Increasingly, mobile aggregators are moving developing a bespoke service to technical platforms with tools that allow clients to design and deploy their own services. This category of aggregator is best typified by global players such as Twilio and Nexmo, whose platforms are driven by programming tools known as APIs (application programming interfaces).

Mobile money providers

Given the dramatic uptake of mobile financial services in emerging markets and the size of remittances among countries, a significant proportion of aggregators in these markets focus on mobile money rather than core mobile services. Mobile money aggregators, such as Cellulant and Beyonic, also distinguish themselves by developing platforms that allow multiple MNOs and financial institutions to work with one another, so organizations and individuals can make transactions across countries and institutions.

NGO aggregators

These aggregators have built platforms on top of their mobile integrations to automate specific services and use cases that target the international development sector. For example, EngageSpark offers a non-technical platform for NGO customers that helps them deal with integration and service design.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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2 Comments to “5 Reasons to Use Mobile Aggregators to Scale MNO Services”

  1. Jaclyn Carlsen says:

    Thanks for a great article Wayan! Many aren’t aware of this side of the mobile industry.

  2. myanmar nancy says:

    Thanks for sharing this approach to MNO services. We are going to try working with VAS here in Myanmar. Working directly with operations is very frustrating.

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