International premium rate (IPRN)traffic has had its ups and downs – and coronavirus has hit it hard. However, things are picking up, thanks to new ways people are using their mobiles in lockdown. Paul Skeldon reports
International PRS traffic was growing well before the lockdown, but has had some set-backs in some markets as the pandemic has spread.
Call centre-based operations that sit behind PRS-based helplines have had some struggles, with staff unable to come to work, especially in Tunisia, Algeria and India where lockdowns have been tightly policed by the military.
Similarly, many airlines use IPRN for its customer service and booking lines worldwide, and this of course has taken a massive hit.
However, as with voice traffic, in some regions – notably Asia – IPRN volumes are going up as more people tap into using it to pay for chatting services and for educational services.
“But higher volumes doesn’t mean higher revenues,” warns Josef Bruckschlögl, CEO of Kwak Telecom. “Many operators see a scissor effect, traffic up, revenue down. But some holistic industry trends may help. International payments for apps and services are likely to recover, especially in developing markets where they have no other way to pay for these things.”
However, Bruckschlögl concedes that right now no one knows what the impact of coronavirus may have longer term on the market.
“In Nigeria they have a saying: ‘lockdown or starve’ – so they are looking at how to carry on and see what happens. Whether there is a heavy economic fall-out depends on how long this crisis lasts,” he says.
The other fall-out form the corona crisis on IPRN will be how the industry will consolidate and what new entrants – with new ideas – will enter.
“[We] are already seeing Chapter 11s, bankruptcies and other problems across the entire value chain – that will inevitably lead to consolidation across the industry.”
Bruckschlögl believes that the pandemic and its consequences will separate out the good from the bad and ween out many players. He also sees it as an opportunity for those left and new entrants to shake up the market and come up with some interesting new ideas.
“it will drive a clean-up throughout the industry and it will be interesting to see who comes out the other end. I am optimistic that it will ultimately be better.”
TRENDS IN IPRN
While the IPRN industry is tactically dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and its fall-out, it is also time to look more strategically at how IPRN will evolve and develop post-COVID.
So what are some of the trends?
Social media – Payments in social media in developing markets are set to be a big growth area for IPRN. Facebook is a huge platform for content and, off the back of it, commerce in developing markets and IPRN offers many of the unbanked a way to pay for things in social media.
In-app purchases – In the developed world, the in-app purchase market is driven by cards and ewallets, but again in the developing world, most people are unbanked and for those that have bank accounts and credit cards, the infrastructure in the banking sector isn’t up to the task. Here IPRN comes into its own and is already becoming a very popular way to pay in sub-Saharan Africa, says Josef Bruckschlögl, CEO of Kwak Telecom.
Consolidation – Perhaps the biggest trend in IPRN worldwide is that of consolidation across the industry. With the pressures of the pandemic taking their toll, many players are likely to disappear from the market. However, they are likely to be bought up and integrated into other players. It is likely that we will see some ‘super-IPRN’ players operating in the years ahead. It is also likely that many new entrants and start-ups will enter the market – typically in developing markets – to capitalise on how IPRN can be used as a content and services payment tool.