Macalla in cross-Atlantic mobile top-up deal


11 May 2004

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Dublin-based mobile technology firm Macalla Software has been selected by New York-based prepaid phone service provider Fonepool to deliver a remote payment solution for J1 students working in the US. The service will be deployed to J1 visa holders from more than 20 countries in 2004.

Fonepool was established a year ago by former USIT business development manager Colman Lydon and in recent weeks signed a major deal with T-Mobile USA to enable J1 holders to enjoy prepaid mobile services in the North American market, where prepaid services account for less than 10pc of overall service.

Fonepool’s service enables student workers to purchase a US mobile phone for €87 that works across the US, including $40 credit. Fonepool succeeded in recruiting 1,000 Irish students during the summer and the same number of Australians and New Zealanders during winter.

In contrast with Europe, prepaid mobile services account for a fraction of the US market and it is difficult for users of the service to find stores that sell top-up services. As a result, Fonepool entered into a collaboration with Macalla to create a service that enables students to top up their call credit simply by sending a text message. This in turn would trigger a transaction for the appropriate amount to be charged to the student’s, or their parent’s, credit card.

In a recent interview with siliconrepublic.com, Lydon said: “We spent some time figuring out how to get around this and have come up with a technological solution to address the problem.

“Remote recharge is something we have been working towards since day one. The students can buy credit when and where they please by simply sending a text message. Our partner on the payment side of things is Bank of Scotland’s WorldPay division. We currently process sales in five currencies, including euros, sterling and US, Australian and New Zealand dollars and will soon include other currencies as well. It’s up to the students themselves if they want to opt in or out of the SMS payment option.”

Lydon added: “Macalla Software is the acknowledged top-up domain expert. Its proven software and flexible deployment options made our decision in choosing a mobile solutions partner an easy one. The electronic top-up solution is an integral part of Fonepool’s strategy going forward.”

The top-up service will be exclusively handset based, eliminating any need for vouchers. “We believe this is a compelling, convenient, and ultimately cost-effective method of keeping in constant touch with family, friends and colleagues while on an extended visit to the US,” said Niall O’Cleirigh, CEO Macalla Software.

“The handset based top-up means phone credit is always at your fingertips, while signing on for the service here in Ireland before they travel will eliminate any insurmountable administration travellers may confront overseas.”

From 1 June, Fonepool plans to expand its service to J1 visa holders from more than twenty countries in 2004, concentrating on Europe in the summer months and southern hemisphere countries including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina in the winter months. The company is also targeting J1 programme participants from emerging markets in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, growing its potential market to the 200,000 people who visit the US on a J1 visa each year.

A winter 2003 participant, Bridie Stanton from Auckland, New Zealand, commented: “The phone deal was sweet. It was incredibly convenient having a phone over there, whether it was to text message my family and friends any news or just to find out what was happening back home… it was super convenient. Something that really helped make my experience just that much better.”

By John Kennedy