They may not be riding the unlimited calls wagon that the other local network providers are, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t innovating. Last week, Econet’s South African based technical partner, Pattern Matched, announced the launch of EcoChat, a new service that allows Econet subscribers on roaming to chat with friends and family back home at the fraction of the cost. The service is part of Econet’s Call Home Package.
To use EcoChat a subscriber has to visit econetzone.mobi, sign up, confirm their subscription via an SMS they receive and then send invitations to family and friends who are invited to sign up for the service on econetzone.mobi.
Initially we thought the service meant customers would SMS each other at reduced costs (that would have been a killer); the reality of the service according to communication from Econet Wireless is that EcoChat is a WAP based chat system available to anyone on the Econet Zimbabwe, Lesotho and CallHome South Africa networks. Registration, friend management and chatting all happens through the WAP site.
On the advantages ( and limitations) of EcoChat over other messaging services such as WhatsApp Econet had this to say:
WhatsApp is a smartphone application and a user must have an expensive device to be able to use it. EcoChat is available to anyone who has a WAP enabled cellphone and therefore can be used by a much broader cross-section of the market. Due to the fact that it is WAP based and uses your phone’s browser,
EcoChat has a couple of limitations including 1) your phone will not beep when a message arrives, (2) due to limitations of low end phone browsers, an EcoChat user must manually refresh by using any of the functions of EcoChat in order to see when a new message has arrived and (3) the service does not integrate with the phone contact. We were aware of these minor limitations when we set out to create EcoChat but took the view that it was better to be inclusive of the majority of customer handsets rather than limit chat services just to customers with high end phones.
Granted, WhatsApp is for high end mobile phones but mobile internet users already have chat solutions for mid-range mobile devices, which are indeed the majority of mobile phones in Zimbabwe and Africa. MXit, eBuddy, NimBuzz and Econet’s own eTXT all make chatting possible at ultra-low costs on feature phones. What do you think? Are we overlooking something here?
EcoChat comes to join a list of services available already on the Econet Call Home Package for Zimbabweans in South Africa, whose estimate number has been said to be between 2 and 3 million. The main ones include Free Touch Messages, Free Home Country Headline News and Low International Call Rates to home which are almost similar to the cost of calling when you are back home. Econet also has a service, CarryMeHome, enables a subscriber, if they die in South Africa, to have their family assisted with the costs of repatriating the body back to Zimbabwe.
Pattern is the same partner that built Econet’s EcoCash mobile money service. The Call Home package uses the Cell C network in South Africa.
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