Payvia is looking to burst through the traditional mobile funds transfer model in emerging markets by adding a wide range of digital services and new forms of content.

"We're not necessarily looking at money transfer. That is possible, but is not our core focus right now. We're looking to provide the ability to transact with a merchant or a brand or a service," says Fraser Thompson, an executive vice president at Payvia.

Payvia, a mobile payments and marketing company, recently partnered with Mobile-XL, which sells mobile services and specializes in areas with limited Web infrastructure. Through the partnership, Payvia will offer a range of mobile commerce services that more closely resembles those found in North America, Europe and Asia.

Pavia will focus its expanded mobile payments and services program initially on Africa, then will expand to India and other markets.

"This unlocks new tech capabilities for consumers in Africa and India and enables people to have access to pay for goods and services that they otherwise would not be able to access," says Denee Carrington, an analyst at Forrester Research. "It's similar to our early days of mobile commerce."

Mobile-XL's platform provides access to Facebook, Twitter, email, news, sports and games from feature phones, which do not support Web browsing or downloadable apps as readily as smartphones do. Mobile-XL focuses on Africa and India.

 "In general people have an appetite for digital goods and services, and music," Fraser says. "In the emerging markets there isn't a mechanism for everyone to do that, [and] that is why we see this as an opportunity."

Mobile–XL browsers use the text-message service as a data channel, allowing non-smartphones to access digital content. By adding Payvia's mobile checkout into the Mobile-XL browser, the companies will allow consumers to pay for digital goods via a two-click method, spending from their prepaid carrier airtime.

Mobile-XL, which did not provide comment for this article by deadline, has substantial reach among local carriers. It's connected to Orange, MTN, Vodafone, Etisalat, Idea and Airtel—a collection of mobile phone networks totaling about 800 million consumers. Many of these carriers also have experience with mobile money networks in Africa.

The potential market includes millions of feature-phone users, who access services without a bank account or credit card.

The mobile commerce industry in emerging markets has grown quickly over the past couple of years. Most of the early action has driven by companies such as the telecom-led M-Pesa.  

But other companies are entering the market. Banks such as  Standard Bank in South Africa, and card networks such as Visa  and MasterCard, are targeting underbanked consumers in Africa and other markets. Western Union and MoneyGram are also pursuing emerging markets.

While much of the focus has been on money transfers, there is an audience for other services. For example, M-KOPA Kenya, a Royal Dutch Shell Plc-funded charity, reported sales of its solar lighting system that allows user to pay by phone increased 1,300% after mobile operators led by Vodafone deployed mobile payments in Africa. More recently, Kipochi, an African online service, said it plans to connect the virtual currency Bitcoin to M-Pesa.

There is potential for new mobile services to take hold quickly, Carrington says, noting the dominance of feature phones as a computing device in Africa and other emerging markets. "It's a leapfrog technology. Many people in these markets don't have access to PCs or laptops, but are on mobile devices, most of which are feature phones."

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