Mention the word USSD and you can expect a blank face.

But show someone the funny looking *120* or *134* number and a look of familiarity will appear followed by a response such as “Ah! Mobile banking!” or “Airtime recharging!”

The story is simple: In South Africa – where almost half of cell phone users can only use USSD, SMS and voice – it has exploded as a tried and trusted mobile marketing channel through its simple and robust menu system.

The mobile economic landscape has further contributed to the spread of USSD as 80% of urban and 94% of rural South Africans have prepaid accounts, and have used this robust channel since the beginning of time to send “please call me” messages and to recharge airtime.


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How USSD works

USSD has the unique advantage of offering a simple browsing experience through a menu system – and it works on all handsets and all cellular networks. It has a distinct advantage over SMS as it is cheaper for the consumer and offers a “session” based interaction similar to browsing a Mobi site.

No internet connection is required and no App needs to be installed. Try our “Smartphone Survey” demo now: *120*716#

USSD Case Studies

There are many great applications for this mobile channel – please browse some of our mobile marketing Case Studies below:

  1. Lil-lets – Mobile marketing campaign
  2. Spar – In-store promotion
  3. info4africa – Directory search using Location Based Services
  4. Isolezwe – Linking print to mobile
  5. Fusion Juice – Airtime rewards competition

We call USSD “Mobi for the Masses” as anyone with a mobile phone can access information and participate.

Technical Details

  1. Costs: R0.20 per 20 seconds which can be reverse billed to the brand or charged to the consumer.
  2. Network time outs range from 3-5 minutes.
  3. Characters are limited to 160, just like SMS.
  4. It works best with quantitative feedback, for example a Likert scale, where the user just has to punch in a number as a selection. Words and sentences are accepted as user input, but this can be challenging to users.

USSD Number Ranges

 *120*   Cost to the consumer 20c for every 20 seconds.
 *130*   Free to the consumer, but only for airtime charging.
 *134*   Free to the consumer, with the 20c for every 20 seconds reverse billed to the brand.