Posted by: beninmwangi | September 28, 2007

African Service Born Out of Necessity!


photo courtesy of: future

I came across this interesting article on Yahoo News. It’s about a phenomena called beeping or flashing that has swept across the entire African continent. In a nutshell flashing or beeping is when someone places a call to your cellphone from theirs, but hangs up the phone after half a second. This is done so that the callers name or number flashes across their friend’s phone, without the caller being charged for the call. This way if the person on the receiving end of the call has time or credits on their calling plan they can then call the beeping caller back-I say this is ingenious!

But there is a downside to this new wave of communication. From time to time, I do receive these types of calls coming from Africa. So long as I am in a position to call back, and not at work or something I just call the person back. But the way that it affects me is that when I try to call someone in an African country the networks are so busy that often it is impossible to get the call through unless I call at an odd hour.

So what is most interesting to me is the interesting response from some of the continent’s cellphone providers. They are trying to formalize this form of communication, by attaching a minute price tag on it. This in hopes that they can at least discourage excessive beeping, while recouping some of the costs.

See excerpt below:

It is a tactic born out of ingenuity and necessity, say analysts who have tracked an explosion in miskin calls by cash-strapped cellphone users from Cape Town to Cairo.

“Its roots are as a strategy to save money,” said Jonathan Donner, an India-based researcher for Microsoft who is due to publish a paper on “The Rules of Beeping” in the high-brow online Journal of Computer Mediated Communication in October.

Donner first came across beeping in Rwanda, then tracked it across the continent and beyond, to south and southeast Asia. Studies quoted in his paper estimate between 20 to more than 30 percent of the calls made in Africa are just split-second flashes — empty appeals across the cellular network.

The beeping boom is being driven by a sharp rise in mobile phone use across the continent.

Africa had an estimated 192.5 million mobile phone users in 2006, up from just 25.3 million in 2001, according to figures from the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union. Customers may have enough money for the one-off purchase of a handset, but very little ready cash to spend on phone cards for the prepaid accounts that dominate the market.

Africa’s mobile phone companies say the practice has become so widespread they have had to step in to prevent their circuits being swamped by second-long calls.

“We have about 355 million calls across the whole network every day,” said Faisal Ijaz Khan, chief marketing officer for the Sudanese arm of Kuwaiti mobile phone operator Zain (formerly MTC). “And then there are another 130 million missed calls every day. There are a lot of missed calls in Africa.”


Zain is responding to the demand by drawing up plans for a “Call-me-back” service in Sudan, letting customers send open requests in the form of a very basic signal to friends for a phone call.

The main advantage for the company is that the requests will be diverted from the main network and pushed through using a much cheaper technology (USSD or Unstructured Supplementary Service Data).

A handful of similar schemes are springing up across Africa, says Informa principal analyst Devine Kofiloto. “It is widespread. It is a concern for operators in African countries, whose networks become congested depending on the time of day with calls they cannot bill for.

“They try to discourage the practice by introducing services where customers can send a limited number of ‘call-back’ request either free of charge or for a minimum fee.”

My question to you is how do you think phone companies should charge for this type of service? Or do you think they should charge? Things that make you go hmmmm….



  1. “Flashing” is more of less paging. If it’s a burden on the providers’ system then it should be charged, but not at the same rate as the typical call.

  2. I really do not think there should be any charges for ‘flashing’ as we call it in Nigeria.

  3. Charges should definitelyt not be applied just so the networks can be free and clear.

  4. first of all, I dont flash. Yes, definitely some form of charge should be applied to flashing at least to wave off those ‘sorry, I flashed you coz I was looking for a friend’ kinda peeps,

    u know….

    on the other hand, a ‘list of allowed flash-me-to-call-you-back’ could be made available…..

  5. Hello!

    This is something that’s also popular with pay-as-you-go users in the UK… It’s called flashing too.

    I’m not sure it should be charged – in some respects it’s a safety feature – kids can “flash” their parents and get them to call back if they need a lift and are out of credit. It also should, at least in a number of cases, result in a return call on the network – so arguably where a network operator would get no revenue (because the phone is out of or low on credit) they at least get the interconnect rate when the responding call comes in.

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