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Vodafone’s content drive goes off the map

Vodafone Live! will be drawing on Google for its maps and local search service, it was announced Monday, while the company will be working with Citibank on a new mobile payments system.

Google launched Google Maps in 2004, which proved to be the starting gun for Web 2.0, as the service’s rich AJAX-based user interface, searchability, and extensive APIs inspired developers across the internet. More recently, Google has responded to the problem that many mobile device browsers have difficulty with pages containing as much JavaScript as Google Maps, converting the service into a J2ME application.

Vodafone will add Google Maps for Mobile to its Live! portal, and some handsets will be able to provide automatic user location, either by GSM cellsite identification or GPS. Frank Rovekamp, Vodafone’s chief marketing officer, described it as part of a strategy to use Vodafone’s distribution scale in partnership with major content brands.

Meanwhile, Vodafone and Citibank Global Transaction Services are planning to build on the airtime credit transfer systems that have been so successful in Africa, adding international money transfer and Web interworking to the M-PESA platform used by Vodafone’s affiliate network in Kenya, Safaricom.

SMS will be used to carry dynamically generated PIN codes that will be convertible to cash or airtime through the businesses that already sell Vodafone prepaid airtime. Transfers can also be initiated, and credits cashed, through a website, a first in the industry.

Michael Joseph, CEO of Safaricom in Kenya said: “Safaricom and Vodafone’s M-PESA mobile money transfer service is an example of Africa leading the world in the advancement of mobile technology and its uses. In Kenya, we have been testing the response to mobile-based payments services and we believe that there is a great deal to be gained for the consumer as well as for mobile and financial sector companies. This opportunity with Vodafone and Citigroup to extend the offering to support international remittances can benefit not only Kenyans, but also the greater population of migrant workers across the world.”

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