The Founding of Mobile Sense
As Orange’s Ambassador for Visionary Planning and subsequently Director of Back Office Systems Synergy, Kerl Haslam has been responsible for determining the viability of Mobile Payments. His investigations implanted in him an unshakeable belief that the world needed a universal mobile payments system.
With five years’ experience in the mobile payment market, Kerl decided to put his money where his mouth was: he left Orange to form Mobile Sense with the aim of establishing the world’s first universal, interoperable payment solution. Realising that integration between banking systems and network systems was a pre-requisite for creating a real customer proposition, he fully immersed himself in the world of banking, surrounded by experts in the field.
Armed with a full understanding of banking systems and business drivers, Kerl created a brief for the integration of banks and mobile network systems; and set about developing a proof of concept for the first mobile payment platform for prepay and contract customers – realising as he did so that this was going to be a brand new industry.
The MS Pioneer Platform
The first Version of MS Pioneer demonstrated closed loop peer-to-peer transfers and provided clear insights into the base system requirements and the need for additional product sets. Mobile Sense then set out to build a cross-network mobile top-up proof of concept and develop a wider product set to correspond with market dynamics (prepay penetration at 79%, the ubiquity of Wi-Fi and the need for merchant friendly infrastructure and point of sale solutions that involved no additional hardware or software). The resulting system was Version 2 of MS Pioneer, incorporating open source technologies in order to pioneer mobile money for the 21st Century.
Version 3 of MS Pioneer incorporated a best-of-breed banking engine (as used by a leading high street bank) that could interface with financial institutions and comply with FSA regulations – this was now the first realisation of a universal, interoperable mobile payment solution.
Mobile Sense engaged a leading international financial law firm to ensure that MS Pioneer was fully compliant with the rapidly changing legislative environment. Mobile Sense then completed the world’s first international ‘mobile remmitancing’ and ‘cross-border top up’ (international money transfer in less than eight seconds).
Version 4 of MS Pioneer brought greater simplicity and agility to the core platform to better support mobile payments. All mobile functionality created to date was integrated into the platform with no compromise in product performance, security, audit, control or ‘plug & play’ capabilities. This enabled Mobile Sense to understand the costs of moving to industrial scale with the technology available on the market at that time and underscored the need for external funding in order to support a million or more users.
Sufficient external investment was secured to explore a viable industrial-strength infrastructure. This resulted in a sustained period of continuous improvement and a myriad of product enhancements – including one of the world’s first deployments of elastic computing technology. The platform now had full back-office functionality, including fraud controls and protection for rapid and secure deployment of a centralised global roll out. A high-street bank carried out technical and security due diligence to confirm that Version 5 of MS Pioneer was the first market-ready, commercially viable, universal and interoperable mobile payment solution.
The next phase in the evolution of MS Pioneer was to conduct a large-scale field test that would bring a detailed understanding of real-world use and consumer behaviours to the platform. Mobile Sense secured a second round of external funding to give MS Pioneer user-friendly consumer interfaces, products and a brand – Beem became a new verb for mobile money, attracting a base of over 2,000 students from Brunel University. This resulted in Version 6 of the platform, proving both consumer and merchant acceptance of the Beem brand and product propositions: this also incorporated support for the new generation of ‘pay as you go’ content providers.
Getting to market
The stage was now set for market-entry but plans for a full commercial launch were frustrated by the financial crisis and subsequent credit crunch. Mobile Sense then enforced its own austerity measures whilst continuing to adapt the platform to emerging technologies such as WiMax and LTE in Version 7 of MS Pioneer. Mobile Sense secured further funding from the U.S. and ramped up the platform – which had been designed to be multi-lingual and multi-currency from day one – to be a ‘global’ proposition, implementing the largest product refresh to date. With a ‘heads of agreement’ for mobile remittancing, Mobile Sense geared the business for U.S. readiness, with an expanded team and new legal documentation and guidelines along with enhanced and secure elastic computing protocols.
After an extended dialogue with a U.S. consortium in relation to a U.S and global roll out, Mobile Sense created an American ‘instance’ of MS Pioneer demonstrating fully functioning product sets on CDMA technology (Version 8 of the platform). The management team also explored strategies for less developed markets. At this point, Steve Williams of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), described Mobile Sense as, “one of the most exciting and innovative companies we have seen in years”.
Mobile Sense prototyped IVR voice recognition, bump technology (a precursor to NFC) and biometrics as part of a continuous improvement programme aimed at reducing operational costs and future-proofing MS Pioneer. Mobile Sense also revisited the system in the context of new technical developments and emerging triple/quad play (mobile convergence) capabilities. More specifically, it focused on the next generation of smartphones, ensuring that the necessary high levels of security and simplicity were not compromised in migrating to these new interfaces.
Mobile Sense refreshed all aspects of its service to capitalise on mobile convergence, including the definition and delivery of user journeys across mobile SMS, implementation of web account management and the creation of a Mobile App. This was packaged under a refreshed Beem brand, which continued to attract trial users – the user base exceeds 5,000 users and continues to grow organically. The Beem product (now running on Version 9 of MS Pioneer) gained public recognition by being included in the top 500 mobile Apps worldwide in The Sunday Times.
After a decade-long journey, Mobile Sense has achieved complete market readiness within an embryonic industry. It is now commencing the commercial launch of the world’s first ‘true’ and ‘universal’ mobile payments proposition, built with reach, security, capacity and the real-world mobile network environment in mind – MS Pioneer can be adapted to bandwidth-constrained or limited coverage locations and to the high-speed capabilities of 4G. With a product perfectly designed to take advantage of the escalating interest in mobile money, Mobile Sense’s next ten years promises to be as exciting as the first.