Low phone credit? Africans opt for the “beep”

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – If you are in Sudan, it is a “missed call”. In Ethiopia, it is a “miskin” or a “pitiful” call. In other regions of Africa, it is “flashing”, “beep” or in French-speaking regions “beeping”.

A man talks on a cell phone on a sidewalk in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, on September 21, 2007. You beep someone when you call them on their cell phone, then hang up half a second later, before you do so. he didn’t have time to answer. Your friend, you hope, sees your name and number on his missed calls list, takes pity on you and calls you back, this time at his expense. REUTERS / Mohamed Nureldin Abdalla

Wherever you are, it’s one of the fastest growing phenomena in the continent’s booming mobile phone markets – and it’s a headache for mobile operators trying to figure out how to do it. get money.

You beep someone when you call them on their cell phone – by flashing their display screen briefly – then hang up half a second later, before they’ve had a chance to answer. Your friend – you hope – sees your name and number on their “missed calls” list and calls you back at their expense.

It’s a tactic born out of ingenuity and necessity, say analysts who have followed an explosion of miskin calls by cash-strapped cell phone users from Cape Town to Cairo.

“Its roots are a strategy for saving money,” said Jonathan Donner, an India-based researcher for Microsoft who is due to publish an article on “The Rules of Beeping” in the top-tier online journal Journal of Computer Mediated Communication in October. .

Donner first encountered a beep in Rwanda, then followed it across the continent and beyond, to South and Southeast Asia. Studies cited in his article estimate that between 20 and over 30 percent of calls made in Africa are fractional second lightning – empty calls through the cellular network.

The boom in beeps is driven by a surge in the use of cellphones across the continent.

Africa had around 192.5 million mobile phone users in 2006, up from just 25.3 million in 2001, according to figures from the UN International Telecommunication Union. Customers may have enough money for a one-time purchase of a device, but very little money to spend on calling cards for the prepaid accounts that dominate the market.

African mobile phone companies say the practice has become so widespread that they have had to intervene to prevent their circuits from being overwhelmed by long calls.

“We have around 355 million network-wide calls every day,” said Faisal Ijaz Khan, marketing director for the Sudanese branch of Kuwaiti mobile 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 developing plans for a “call-me-back” service in Sudan, allowing customers to send open requests in the form of a very basic signal to friends for a phone call.

The main benefit to the business is that requests will be diverted from the mainnet and transmitted using much cheaper technology (USSD or Unstructured Supplementary Service Data).

A handful of similar programs are emerging across Africa, according to Devine Kofiloto, senior analyst at Informa. “It’s generalized. This is a concern for operators in African countries, whose networks become congested depending on the time of day with calls they cannot bill.

“They are trying to discourage this practice by introducing services where customers can send a limited number of ‘callback’ requests, either free of charge or for a minimum charge.”

There are many other reasons why mobile operators want to reduce this practice. One is that it annoys customers who are harassed by repeated missed calls.

A second is that the “flashes” eat away at one of the performance indicators preferred by mobile phone companies: ARPU or average revenue per user. Call errors pay very little on their own – and don’t always persuade the target to call back.

Orange Senegal, Kofiloto said, allows customers to send a “Remind me” (“Remind me”) when their phone credit drops below $ 0.10. With Safaricom Kenya, this is a “Flashback 130” (limited to five per day – and with the warning “Stop Flashing! Ask Nicely”). Vodacom RD Congo’s “Call me back” service costs $ 0.01 per message.


But the beep isn’t just about the money. Donner’s “Beep Rules” suggest a social protocol for the practice.

“The richest guy pays,” he writes. It’s okay to beep someone if you’re strapped for cash and they have plenty of credit. Never beep someone poorer than you.

Never beep someone you are asking for a favor. You don’t want to risk annoying the person you’re trying to seduce. Never flash your girlfriend unless you want to look cheap.

“Most beeps are requests to the mobile owner to call back immediately, but can also send a pre-negotiated instrumental message such as’ take me back now ‘or send a relationship sign, such as’ thinking of you. “,” Said the newspaper.

It can go even further than that.

Cameroonian researchers Victor WA Mbarika and Irene Mbarika identified another type of beep-fueled relational call in a study conducted for the technological association Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

“Lovers often communicate by text or ‘beep’,” says the study. “A correspondent dials another’s number, then hangs up. One ringtone can mean: “I am here”, two rings: “Call me now”.

And the name they gave to this new entry in the lexicon of beeps? Borrowing a street slang term for a call to sex, they dubbed it “the call of booty”.

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