Cellum Insights

The original “killer app”: tools for mobile top-up

In Silicon Valley, the vast majority of people pay for their cell phone subscriptions via recurring credit card charges billed at the end of every monthly payment cycle. But in most of the world, cell phones are called mobile phones, and they are paid for in much different ways.

According to WeAreSocial, 76% of mobile subscriptions globally are prepaid accounts, meaning the subscriber must “top up” the account in advance of making a call or otherwise using the device on a mobile network. And from country to country and region to region, consumers have traditionally used a number of different ways to add money to their accounts. In Southeast Asia, people have headed to kiosks or post offices, while in Europe, banks have made phone top-up a popular selection on ATM menus.

Now, however, an increasing percentage of prepaid users are freeing themselves from the task of having to visit a physical location to buy airtime for themselves or – sometimes just as crucially – for others.

Top-up websites
The first such method for recharging phone balances involved websites capable of supporting payments to multiple carriers, sometimes even international transactions. But when you are browsing on your phone, these can consume a good deal of data. Meanwhile, in much of the world “card-on-file” restrictions mean you have to manually re-enter your card details every time you top up your phone, which is cumbersome on a tiny touch screen.

Mobile network apps
Many carriers also offer apps that allow prepaid clients to manage their account, including recharging balances. Such apps tend to be easier and more convenient to use than even well-optimized mobile websites, and being connected directly to a carrier’s systems allow users to immediately take advantage of the credits they buy. Their main drawback, is that they only allow users to top up their own balances.

Mobile banking apps
Some banks offer mobile banking apps that may let you top up prepaid phones. But these are surprisingly rare, and some of the banks that do offer this service will charge you extra for it. So always remember to closely read the terms and conditions. (Even though it’s an app, remember that it’s coming from a bank!)

Mobile wallets
Finally, cutting-edge mobile payments firms like Cellum provide so-called mobile wallets, apps that can securely store your credit and debit cards and other payment “instruments” and provide a range of useful functions, including recharging mobile airtime. Such apps are available in a number of countries, and we are working on launching in more in cooperation with local partners.
Among our best-known wallets currently in use are OTPay, Erste MobilePay and Telenor Wallet in Hungary and Mobile Credit Card in Thailand, while ECPay will be available soon in Indonesia.

Compared to the other forms of top-up, Cellum-powered mobile wallets are quick, convenient, flexible and extremely secure. You simply open up the app and hit “Top-Up” or “Prepaid top-up” (depending on the specific app you are using), select from a list of available carriers and enter the phone number you want to recharge, funding the account with any of the bank cards you have added to the wallet. Before you finish, we ask you to enter your mPIN – a personal password that protects your transactions – and in just a few moments, the top-up is complete. If your bank provides SMS alerts, you will be notified on the purchase via text.

The whole process usually takes less than a minute, and as apps like Cellum’s become more widely available we may someday see the 25% of mobile users who don’t use prepaid billing arrangements thinking about quickly switching – except wallets like Cellum’s also handle post-paid billing as well.