Bluetooth and NFC-powered PesaPal Sabi obsoletes Safaricom’s MPESA 1Tap – Here’s how it works

PesaPal Sabi

Not so long ago, Safaricom unveiled what it calls a “faster way to pay with MPESA”, a mobile service that is used by millions of Kenyans.

Dubbed MPESA 1Tap, using the new feature requires one to purchase a phone sticker, card or wristband that is then linked to their MPESA account. With these devices, Safaricom says users “can easily and securely make Lipa na MPESA Buy Goods and Services payments” by simply tapping and entering the PIN to pay and go!

This is a cool way of making payments, arguably better than the typical Lipa na MPESA via pay bill or till numbers. But I’ve been a strong critic of this technology, especially considering that one has to stick some gadget on the back of their phone or carry around a card in order to use the service. The whole point of introducing mobile payment services like MPESA is so that you don’t have to carry around things like your wallet full of credit and debit cards. However, using MPESA 1Tap takes you back to these old days, unless you are okay with altering the gorgeous look of your phone by sticking some gadget on the back panel or adding a wristband to your already loaded wrist.

Now, in a move that dwarfs Safaricom’s approach to tap and go payments, online payment platform PesaPal has just unveiled what the giant telco should have given the masses instead of the old-fashioned MPESA 1Tap. Dubbed PesaPal Sabi, this service takes advantage of mobile Point of Sale systems (mPOS) to allow users (individual and businesses) to process secure on-the-go payments in supported stores using the PesaPal Sabi Android app, which is free to download from the Google Play Store.

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Unlike Safaricom’s MPESA 1Tap that relies on customized gadgets that limit the service to MPESA, the PesaPal Sabi app supports multiple platforms, including the usual VISA and MasterCard credit and debit cards, both in local currencies and in U.S. dollars. Interestingly, Sabi will later be updated to add support for MPESA, mVISA and American Express payments, effectively rendering MPESA 1Tap redundant.

How PesaPal Sabi works

The main reason I didn’t like MPESA 1Tap is Safaricom’s approach to what is an otherwise great idea. At a time when tap and go payment systems such as Samsung Pay, Android Pay and Apple Pay are turning to Near Field Communication (NFC) chips for the convenience of making these payments, Safaricom chose to come in with accessories aimed to serve the same purpose. The inconvenience of carrying around these accessories is what puts me off.

With PesaPal Sabi app installed on your phone, you can use either Bluetooth or NFC to make payments, features that don’t need you to change the design of your phone, carry around a card or don a wristband in addition to your watch and that Chelsea, Manchester United or Gor Mahia wristband. With Bluetooth, both the mPOS and the phone should have the wireless service enabled so that they can be paired. Once paired, you can launch the Sabi app on your phone and proceed with making the transaction. This should also be the case when using NFC terminals, where NFC needs to be enabled on the phone.

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According to PesaPal, the Sabi-compatible terminals are portable and can handle up to 250 transactions before another battery recharge. Business owners will also be able to view transaction histories as well as issue receipts, which will be sent to users via email or text.

Note that not all phones come equipped with an NFC chip. In fact, it’s only until recent times that this feature has started making its way to midrange phones. So, if your Android phone doesn’t come with an NFC chip, you can still use Bluetooth to make tap and go payments. PesaPal Sabi is available for users in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and as noted, the app is free to download via the Play Store, weighing a mere 3MB.

Hopefully, Safaricom will borrow a few lessons from PesaPal and replace MPESA 1Tap accessories with a Bluetooth and/or NFC-powered application.

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