IoT devices-as-a-service through Angaza's SMS based installment payment plan

African telcos sell IoT solar panels that run as long as installment payments are made.

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Credit: Angaza

Can rent-to-buy plans make IoT devices affordable for thousands who need them, but can't afford to buy one?

Solar panels can help African farmers with lighting and power, but are often out of reach. How can the purchase price be split into small installment payments that are manageable. How can IoT enable such a business model? How can low-cost devices communicate when both cellular and radio based transmitters aren't viable? How are such devices distributed and payments collected across a vast continent?

Angaza’s approach combines IoT devices enabled with SMS based installment payments. 

Background
Around 1.2 billion people live without access to electricity. Off-grid energy appliances and services can address this issue, especially in developing countries. The Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA) expects the off-grid energy and appliance market to be a $50 billion per year opportunity.

"Most of our customers earn less than $2 a day and have very little disposable income. Some are dependent on daily wages, often used to purchase basic necessities, including kerosene, mobile phone airtime and food in small increments. We needed to find an alternative to up-front payments that fit this purchasing pattern", noted Anish Thakkar, CEO and co-founder of Greenlight Planet.

Device design
IoT enables mass market consumer devices which can be activated and kept on as long as payments are made. But how can a low cost device communicate to the seller to check if it should turn off in case a payment isn’t been made? Cellular and GSM radio circuitry is too expensive for such low-cost devices. The answer is in having circuitry embedded in the device which checks the 'code' entered to determine if it should continue working. This allows consumers to purchase 'codes' when they have money. Codes can be entered into a device which does not have cellular or radio based connectivity. 

How it works
Consider an Angaza enabled solar panel. Customers purchase the panel through their local telco sales agent who enters payment details into Angaza’s mobile app. The payment data synchronizes with Angaza’s cloud-based platform which sends the customer a keycode via SMS. The customer enters the keycode into a keypad on their solar panel. The solar panel isn't constantly connected to the carrier network.

angaza schematic Angaza

The solar panel turns on and tracks how long it is running till the credit purchased is used up. The customer then has to purchase a new code to keep the solar panel running. The device internally tracks how much credit was purchased and how long it has been working. This enables it to turn off on its own, without having to be continuously connected to the cloud. Once the balance on the solar panel has been fully paid off, the device is permanently unlocked and no more codes need to be bought.
Keycodes

Designing a high tech product offering for a low tech operational environment with illiterate users requires excellent design. The Angaza keycode is entered into the connected devices through a few entry keys and feedback is provided via blinking LEDs. A simple user interface simplifies installation and reduces training requirements. The Angaza keycode:
- Can only be used once on the device
- Only works on a specific device
- Purchase and installment payments can be entered in any order. 
- Can correspond to different payment amounts

Distribution
Telcos distribute Angaza powered IoT appliances because it generated SMS traffic and increased use of their mobile money. The telcos vast distribution network in African villages sell keycodes as well as mobile money. Once the Angaza Hub gets payment confirmation from the telco, it generates a keycode that's sent to the user via an SMS. This system even works for customers in areas with limited cellular coverage. The only time that a user needs cell phone coverage is the short period of making a mobile money payment and receiving the keycode SMS. After receiving the SMS, the user is free to travel the “last mile” back to their house, where there is no electrical grid and potentially no cell coverage. 

The potential of IoT enabled pay-as-you-go plans is enormous. Imagine hundreds of devices with their own internal 'parking meters' which only keep devices on, as long as they are paid.

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