Accelerating PAYG utilities in five markets through the IPN Hub

The Instant Payment Notification (IPN) Hub is an industry utility created by the GSMA to enable ecosystem players to integrate more easily with mobile money operators – bringing fundamental utility services (such as electricity, water and sanitation) to off-grid populations. We are thrilled to share a progress update now that the IPN Hub is live in five markets, meeting high industry demand in Malawi.

The IPN Hub connects service providers in the PAYG sector to critical mobile money services through a single point of integration.

The IPN Hub’s journey to date

The IPN Hub is now processing notifications of payments for pay-as-you-go (PAYG) utility providers in five markets. These are Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi.

The IPN Hub’s current footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa

To date, the Hub has processed notifications for over three million unique payment transactions and has supported the provision of clean solar energy for up to 170,000 households in the above countries.

Source: SolarWorks!

The need for the IPN Hub

To recap on the utility of the IPN Hub – automated and instant notification of payments is crucial for any pre-paid utility service that requires customers to pre-pay before activating their service. In particular, PAYG solar models allow customers the flexibility to pay for solar home systems in small instalments by mobile money. The solar home system is only unlocked for use when the solar provider knows that the customer has pre-paid to use the system (e.g. via instant payment notification), and sends them a code or remotely unlocks the system. Without this functionality, solar providers must manually download customer payment information from mobile operators’ web portals, which means that customers do not have a seamless service with the peace of mind that services will be activated as soon as they pay. Thus, it is essential for scale that pre-paid utility service providers have real-time API integration with mobile money platforms.

However, platform integrations for real-time notifications of payment have been time-consuming and difficult for utility service providers and mobile money providers, in some cases taking six months or more. This is because mobile money APIs are not usually accessible for third parties to easily integrate, and many markets do not have aggregators that can provide these integration services. Mobile money providers have had to invest time and resources to individually integrate each third party, forcing them to prioritise among companies. The figure below demonstrates how the IPN Hub addresses the above challenge.

The significance of launching the IPN Hub in Malawi

In February 2019, the IPN Hub team joined forces with USAID’s Solar Home System (SHS) Kick-Starter Program for Malawi, which aims to catalyse and stimulate the SHS market in the short term over three years. The programme provides results-based financing to SHS providers, operational support, market demand stimulation and development of enabling policies.

“We estimate that the program will provide 100,000 to 150,000 households with access to power, bringing in up to 22.5 million in investment into Malawi.” Littleton Tazewell, USAID Malawi Mission Director.

The launch of this programme provided a perfect opportunity for the IPN Hub to engage with the off-grid solar companies in Malawi as well as plan the technical integration roadmap with mobile money operators. We are thrilled that the IPN Hub is now integrated with Airtel Money Malawi and is processing real time notifications of payments for Zuwa Energy, Yellow Solar, Green Impact and Vitalite. More PAYG solar providers, including Solarworks!, SUNami Solar, i-renewable, and Solar Africa, are in the process of integrating with Airtel Money through the IPN Hub. For SolarWorks! and Vitalite, both grantees of our GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities Innovation Fund, Malawi represents a new growth market, and this kind of scaling is what the IPN Hub was built to achieve. Beyond Airtel Money, the IPN Hub will also seek to make it easier to integrate to other mobile money services in Malawi.

Additionally, the IPN Hub is currently supporting the processing of payments for other use cases beyond PAYG solar and water, such as clean cooking solutions with Inyenyeri in Rwanda. We are also supporting water utilities in Malawi to connect to Airtel Money through the IPN Hub to improve their ability to accept mobile money payments – a crucial way for water utilities to improve their revenue collection, as highlighted in our report.

We would like to end this blog post by thanking the USAID Southern Africa Energy Program, a Power Africa initiative, for the opportunity to contribute to the SHS Kick-Starter Program and for supporting the IPN Hub in Malawi.

If you are interested in connecting to the IPN Hub, in any of the five markets mentioned, please contact us at mobilemoney@gsma.com.

The IPN Hub is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the GSMA and its members.

The GSMA Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities programme is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), USAID as part of its commitment to Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development and supported by the GSMA and its members.

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