By Emma Okonji
Emma Okonji writes that the recent partnership between MTN Nigeria and Uber Taxi will not only boost communications, but will also ease metro transportation for customers
As human needs are increasing due to the global population explosion, software developers are also thinking of how to develop software apps that will address such growing needs.
One of such software apps, known and Uber Taxi, which was developed in recent times, seeks to connect metropolitan transporters with their customers, using a smartphone and the Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to enhance location accuracy, as well as easy, convenient and safe taxi services for customers.
Since the global introduction of Uber Taxi, it has taken Africans by storm and it is becoming very relevant on the African continent.
Shortly after it was introduced in Nigeria few years ago, MTN decided to collaborate with Uber, in order to provide the much needed ease of taxi services for MTN subscribers.
Deploying technology to drive innovation has become the trend in today's world. Most, if not everything in the society today, revolves around technology. In the past, opening a bank account required one's presence in the banking hall, but with the introduction of the Biometric Verification Number (BVN), which is another form of technology innovation, bank customers can open bank accounts from the comfort of their homes, through a mobile app. The same applies to hotel bookings. In the past, one had to physically go to the hotel to make reservations for a room but now, booking can be made via mobile phones. Aviation flight booking can also be done from homes and offices, using a connected device such as mobile phone and tablets.
Such technology innovation that has brought a lot of ease to people has also been extended to taxi service. In the past, one would have to walk down the roads in order to flag down a taxi, and this comes with some inconveniences.
Apart from the uncertainty of getting the taxis when they are needed, there is no guarantee that the driver is suitably qualified to drive, coupled with the issue of insecurity.
But the recent collaboration between MTN and Uber Taxi, no doubt, will put an end to all the listed challenges.
Uber is a smartphone driven transport service that provides safe, convenient and fast taxi service for subscribers. Since its inception seven years ago, the Uber brand has experience phenomenal growth. Today it is widely acknowledged as a global leader in taxi service with presence in over 380 cities round the globe.
Now, with its presence in Nigeria and a partnership with leading ICT company, MTN Nigeria, Uber appears set to take the taxi business to the next level.
Known as a disruptive software app for metropolitan transport service, Uber started its platform with on-demand black car services. This was a sustaining innovation in the higher-end black cab and limousine market. Uber essentially put a new interface on top of an existing market.
It later extended from the black car services to UberX, which started down-market from traditional taxis by allowing anyone with a car to drive other people around for money.
Although the UberX had its challenges from where the technology was first introduced in the United States (US), as it wasn't initially very competitive with taxis for most passengers. UberX cost more than a taxi and took a long time to arrive, and drivers weren't required to have extensive knowledge of how to navigate the city.
However, as the Uber's network grew in each city, ride costs fell, wait times declined and its rating system helped keep driver quality relatively consistent. With such improvement in service quality, Uber was able to move upstream to attack taxis directly with UberX, which was seen as a classic disruptive move.
In New York City, this shift happened very obviously in the summer of 2014, around the same time Uber launched a nearly ubiquitous marketing campaign around the city. The ads all declared that UberX rides were now cheaper than taxis. Today, in most major cities, UberX is cheaper, faster and better quality than a taxi, and this is exactly what MTN intends to achieve, through its recent collaboration with Uber Taxi.
The Uber/MTN collaboration
Uber made its entry into Nigeria in 2015 with the introduction of its two products, Uber Black, a premium taxi service and the UberX for low-end customers with cars like Toyota Camry, Kia Cerato, Hyundai Elantra, Honda Accord and others in its fleet. Within one year of entry into Nigeria, Uber has now expanded into three cities; Lagos, Port Harcurt and Abuja and has plans of expanding to other cities of the country.
The partnership between Uber and MTN will see MTN subscribers enjoying free rides worth N6, 000, which is N3,000 off their first two rides.
The General Manager, Uber Nigeria, Ebi Atawodi, described the Uber app as the app that connects the driver to the rider in no time. She also explained that the app calculates the price for each fare and charges the rider by showing a fare estimate.
"We are very excited to be announcing our partnership with MTN, Nigeria's largest mobile network provider and we are delighted to be offering their subscribers an opportunity to use our app", Ebi said.
Speaking on the safety of its customers, Ebi said: "To ensure that Uber riders receive the highest quality rides and reliability, all partner drivers have to have a driver institute card and commercial insurance before they are allowed to drive on the Uber system. Further all our drivers are vetted by the Uber team, making Uber the safest way to get around."
General Manager Consumer Marketing, MTN Nigeria, Mr. Richard Iweanoge, also said: "As part of our effort to improve and add value to the quality of life of our esteemed subscribers, we have decided to partner Uber cab service, starting from this season of love."
He added: "We are helping our customers enjoy a premium and reliable ride to and from destinations of their choice, at the touch of a button on their mobile devices. Meaning all MTN subscribers will now have the opportunity of requesting for a cab service from the comfort of their home wherever they might be through our fast and reliable data service."
Uber rides come with a GPS tracking system which sees where the rider is on the map, making pickup more efficient than alternate means of transportation. Riders also have access to a live GPS-enabled map throughout their journey and can share this with a third party, such as family, partners or friends, who can track their progress to their destination
Creating Job opportunities
Aside the ease and safety in transportation within the metropolis, the partnership between MTN and Uber, will engage more drivers in the system, thereby creating professional driving jobs for Nigerians, according to MTN.
Iweanoge said more fleets of cars will be brought into the system to ease transportation system in the cities currently covered by Uber, and in the process more drivers will be employed to handle the fleet of cars.
"MTN understands the high rate of unemployment in the country and will continue to come up with innovations and support technologies that will boost job creation for the country's job seekers," Iweanoge said.
The GPS technology
The GPS system primarily consists of a GPS receiver on the bus or vehicle, a communications link between the vehicle and the dispatcher, Web-based or offline tracking software and a digital map. Communication between the GPS receiver and the server can happen via a GSM network using Short Message Service (SMS) or General Packet Radio Service (GPRS).
First conceptualised in the early 1960s, Global Positioning System (GPS), is a space-based navigation system that allows a receiver to compute its location and velocity by measuring the time it takes to receive radio signals from four or more overhead satellites. Due to various error sources, standard GPS yields position measurements accurate to approximately 10 metres.
Differential GPS (DGPS), which enhances the system through a network of fixed, ground-based reference stations, has improved accuracy to about one metre. But metre-level accuracy isn't sufficient to support emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles, precision farming, and related applications.
The Chairman of Electrical and Computer Engineering, from the Bourns College of Engineering, University of California, Riverside (UCR), Professor Jay Farrell, in a recent published research, which he led, said: "To fulfill both the automation and safety needs of driverless cars, some applications need to know not only which lane a car is in, but also where it is in that lane--and need to know it continuously at high rates and high bandwidth for the duration of the trip."
The research focused on developing advanced navigation and control methods for autonomous vehicles.
Farrell said these requirements can be achieved by combining GPS measurements with data from an inertial measurement unit (IMU) through an internal navigation system (INS). In the combined system, the GPS provides data to achieve high accuracy, while the IMU provides data to achieve high sample rates and high bandwidth continuously.
GPS tracking solution has allowed supply chain management team to have visibility on the vehicle's movement with information on present location, speed, and a host of other features. The information has been made available by using a combination of Global Positioning System, mobile phone network, internet, digital mapping and the specialised tracking software.