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What Is USSD & How Does It Benefit Businesses?

Telecommunications Software Solutions

what is ussd?

USSD is short for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data. It is a mobile communication technology that is used around the world to send text between a mobile phone and an application in the network.

ussd example

Image Credit: ResearchGate

USSD example

It is most commonly used by consumers to check available mobile airtime and conduct data balance enquiries, or in mobile marketing competitions.

Similar to Short Message Service (SMS), but different in function, USSD transactions cannot be kept; instead, while SMSes can be sent and stored to a mobile phone before and after a user opens it, that cannot be done with USSD. USSD is a transaction while SMS is a message. USSD works in real-time, while SMS is merely a text message that is delivered to a mobile phone.

USSD is text driven, and does not require an internet connection to work, which is what makes it so valuable, particularly in emerging markets, which is why it is often used in mobile phone applications. It allows users to interact directly on a menu from their cell phone.

What can USSD do for business?

Its easy to use, does not require sophisticated technology, and is cheaper than most communication platforms. But there are even more benefits:

Benefits of USSD

  • Does not require an internet connection or data to work.
  • Reduces operating costs when it works as a self-service application for your customers.
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction when you give them the ability to serve themselves.
  • It works with just about every mobile phone.
  • Works globally.
  • Intuitive menu with real-time interactivity.
  • Very economical. 
  • Two-way communication is up to seven times faster than SMS.

All in all, it works on just about any mobile phone, whether it’s a cheap, or expensive smartphone. It’s free for your clients to use, and cost-effective for businesses. It does not require data to work, and all it needs to operate, is a connection to the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network.

How can businesses use it?

A few examples of how businesses use USSD:

  • Mobile banking because it works on any mobile device at low cost. 
  • Menus and requests – users can purchase airtime, data, or request account balances.
  • Updating customer information – integrate USSD with your ERP or CRM software to request updated information.
  • Send surveys or questionnaires for cost-effective and reliable customer feedback.
  • In competitions or other marketing activities like vouchers and coupons.
  • Order confirmation and tracking on online purchases.

How telcos are using USSD 

how telcos are using ussd
  • Self-help services for subscribers.
  • Transactions in mobile money applications, specifically in under-developed countries where people often don’t have funds for data.
  • To solicit customer feedback.
  • Access to Facebook & Whatsapp via USSD for their subscribers, so that their users do not need internet access to connect to the basics.

CashUp in India is a Fintech startup that uses a USSD-based money transfer platform for users to conduct transactions. 

Orange, the mobile operator in Africa, runs a platform which enables developers to plug into a standardised USSD API, making approximately 50 third-party services accessible on the platform, and boasts around 200,000 unique average monthly users. 

OpenView HD in South Africa, has 20 radio stations, offering local and international entertainment. 

In a highly competitive market, they wanted more awareness of their offerings that would lead to increased sales and more decoder installations.

The solution was a Short Code campaign and cash prize competition. All purchasers needed to do was purchase a decoder and submit the serial number via USSD.

The weekly draw was automated and winner notifications sent. They also set up a Mobi page to showcase the winners for social media that was linked to the competition; winners were directed to the page to post selfies of themselves with their decoders and prize.

21075 people entered the competition, 13941 entries were made via USSD, and 48957 SMSes were sent.

Adapt IT | Telecoms USSD solutions

ussd solutions

Adapt IT Telecoms’ USSD solution is menu-driven and can work on most handsets, and offers all the benefits listed in this article. This solution is a value-added service that connects user mobile phones to operators, and can be used for:

  • Mobile marketing and advertising.
  • Chat and social networking.
  • Offering “Please Call Me” services to subscribers.
  • Predictive messaging on mobile phones.

Adapt IT not only has a long history of Telco solutions as mentioned above but has also expanded into the Mobile Financial Services space. These solutions are supporting the following traffic throughput:

  • 5 Billion mobile data transactions/day.
  • 200 Million SMS deliveries/day (Including Please Call Me & Mobile Advertising)


Additional sources:


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