Ben Lyon, a founder ad former CEO of Kenya’s Kopo Kopo has launched Hover, an Android SDK that enables developers to embed mobile money into their apps with vision to enable developers to build for the world around them and create a more inclusive internet.
The USSD API for Android now already in use in 6 countries across Africa, will enable developers to programmatically navigate multi-step USSD menus in the background of their applications. Hover has been used to build super-apps, bundle buying apps, streamline in-app payments, and more.
Speaking to TechMoran, Hover CEO Ben Lyon said, “Using Hover, developers can now automate USSD-based mobile financial services (e.g. Airtel Money, MTN Mobile Money, etc.) without having to integrate with mobile network operators. ”
On Saturday October 6th, Hover successfully transferred a JPEG via USSD, a first in the world that an image has been transmitted via an Android app using USSD as a transport layer.
“Because USSD uses the voice channel and is not dependent on mobile data, which means we’ve identified a way to deliver lightweight data to users that have no mobile data balance, have mobile data turned off, or are in low-bandwidth (e.g. 2G) coverage areas,” said Lyon adding that the firm will be releasing this service commercially in the coming weeks to bring the next billion users online.
Specific use cases of the new service include uploading Know Your Customer (KYC) documentation (e.g. a National ID), transmitting map tiles, and updating text-based content.
Based on his previous experience as co-founder & CEO of KopoKopo in Kenya, Lyon says he found that it takes too long to integrate with every mobile banking and/or mobile money service on a one-by-one basis. If a user wanted to launch a service across East Africa, for example, he or she might need to integrate with 10+ mobile money providers, which could take 12-18 months each.
“Instead of taking that approach, we wanted to find a way to give developers a single end point — a single integration that lets them launch wherever they want without having to wait on banks or telcos. That’s why we started Hover. By enabling developers to automate USSD-based services in the background of their applications, they can now add support for most mobile money services in the world in less than an hour. It’s all about automating the channel vs. automating each service one-by-one,” he told TechMoran.
Hover enables developers to programmatically control any USSD-based service in the world in an hour or less. In the case where a developer has their own USSD code (e.g. a code provisioned by Africa’s Talking), they can do way more than simply automating a USSD-based work flow. Ben adds that developers can actually use USSD as a transport layer, which can be used to transmit text-based content and, on a limited basis, transmit images without requiring a Mobile Data connection (USSD basically uses the voice channel). By using this method, developers can deliver the surface of the Internet to their users, even when their users have no data balance or have Mobile Data switched off.
It’s a false dilemma that USSD is dead because if a developer is building for Android or iOS, they can’t avoid interfacing with USSD in some capacity, especially since most financial services across Africa and Asia are delivered via USSD. Accordingly, Hover has built a bridge that enables developers to automate USSD-based actions in the background of their applications. It hasn’t built support for iOS yet, but it supports Android 4.3 and above (which accounts for over 96% of global Android circulation).
Using Hover, an app developer can now enable localized payments and even lightweight ‘offline’ data transmission via USSD, which is incredibly powerful given that many users across Africa and Asia turn mobile data off to avoid background data fees. Hover is the bridge between USSD and apps.
The two use cases Hover is focusing on are 1) in-app payments leveraging local payment types (e.g. mobile banking, mobile money, etc.), and 2) lightweight data transmission in markets where users habitually turn off mobile data, which otherwise precludes them from accessing Internet-based services.
“We’ve found a way to deliver the ‘surface of the Internet’ to users that otherwise spend the majority of their time ‘offline’. In the second use case, we’re especially interested in helping FinTech startups process Know Your Customer (KYC) data without requiring a data connection. Specifically, that would mean enabling a user to upload an image of their national ID or equivalent ID without requiring that they have an Internet connection. Once that’s possible, we can help deliver financial services to those that are traditionally excluded from the formal financial sector,” Lyon told TechMoran.
Hover’s customers are developers or product teams. They pay to use Hover APIs on a per-usage basis, so a business might pay a few US pennies to be able to transmit data ‘offline’ using Hover, or to enable local payments (e.g. Vodacom M-Pesa in Tanzania) within their apps.
Hover is already in use in over 10 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, from Kenya to Ghana to Nigeria. It has enabled Venmo-like companies in Nigeria and Tanzania, merchant payment companies in Kenya, bundle buying applications in Kenya and Uganda, and more. Going forward, Hover’s goal is to do for Africa and Asia what Plaid did in North America — make the barriers to entry to delivering financial services insignificant in order to spark the next wave of innovation and bring real competition to the financial services space.
Hover’s founding team are all second-time founders with experience in East Africa. The team has experience working with Kopo Kopo, Spatial Collective, One Africa Media, and Ushahidi.
“We know how hard it is to build tech startups in Sub-Saharan Africa and we aim to do our part to make it easier for the next wave of founders,” Lyon said. “By eliminating the barriers to integrating with local payment types and solving the ‘offline’ problem, we aspire to make it as easy as possible for new companies to get started and build traction without any external dependencies.”
Hover is the first in the world to transmit an image via USSD in the background of an Android application. It’s technology is patent-pending in the United States and it aims to roll it out commercially in Africa in the coming weeks and months.