Optus takes on not-for-profit MVNO

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Optus takes on not-for-profit MVNO

Telco targets disabled users.

A not-for-profit organisation has partnered with Optus to launch Australia’s first telco aimed squarely at disabled users.

Jeenee Mobile, a division of not-for-profit Community Connections Australia (CCA), will today launch a range of mobile plans backed up by a support network for disabled people and their families.

“We [set it up] primarily because we needed to work out a way we could get the applications we could develop on Android smartphones into the poorest of the poor: those living on disability support pensions,” Jeenee managing director Jeremy Way told iTnews.

“We started doing the sums, and we realised what we really needed was a telco in this space to serve this particular market.

"That’s when we started down the path of investigating the MVNO side of things, and after a couple of very lengthy discussions with Optus, it became very clear that was the way to go.”

Jeenee Mobile offers eight plans: four with Android handsets over 24 months, and four BYO options.

Services are backed up by a suite of mostly internally developed applications and a ‘help centre’ located in Parramatta, staffed by 16 CCA workers trained specifically in disability issues as well as technical support. 

The centre will initially operate from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, ramping up to 24-hour support over the coming months.

“We’ve got a core group of people who are naturally technically proficient, but every single person on the floor here has very very high empathy levels," Way said. "That’s what we look for when we recruit.”

The MVNO works in conjunction with nine disability service providers to individually configure each smartphone to its user.

Partners are trained in Jeenee systems and are provided with the information needed to support their clients. They have so far put 150 users on Jeenee's pilot program, Way said.

Jeenee has a handful of specially developed applications running on the Android-only smartphones. Way said he chose Android for the openness of the platform and for the Android developers CCA already had working in house.

A replacement home screen, called Big Launcher, is licensed from an Eastern European development firm of the same name, and has been tweaked for Jeenee’s core market. 

The simplified home screen provides a series of tile pages, similar in design to the Windows Phone interface, with six tiles per page, each launching an application.

“The beauty about it is it allows the device to be as simple or as complex as is required by the individual,” Way said.

“For someone with a severe intellectual disability with low or no literacy for example, we can set this up so there is direct dial via an image of a family member.”

Another application, Big Red Button, is a one-touch contact to the help centre. It triggers a background feature, Location Services, to send co-ordinates of the user to the help centre to position them on a map.

“A number of people get lost and require assistance,” Way said. “There are a range of issues, we’ve had people with intellectual disabilities who get lost, wheelchair-bound people who have service difficulties with their wheelchair.”

Meanwhile, a Remote Device Management Services application enables Jeenee to remotely access the device and check its network and battery status, among other things.

Jeenee users with motor skills issues or who are non-verbal can also access the help centre via a queue of pre-configured text messages.

Combating bill shock

With permission from the end user and family, Jeenee will turn off access to data once the user hits their limit to avoid added cost.

“We need to make sure people don’t blow their intended value,” Way said. “We would give ourselves a huge pat on the back if every month 100 percent of our users stayed within their spend.”

Jeenee alerts users when they reach 50, 70, 80 and 100 percent of plan usage, calling the user at 80 percent and automatically barring the user from data and SMS at 100 percent. The user is then “immediately” contacted by telephone by Jeenee to ask how to proceed.

The MVNO similarly bans premium SMS services and outbound international calls, and doesn’t offer global roaming. Way said market feedback had indicated no demand for global roaming but the company would deal with it on a case by case basis.

While Jeenee's offerings target disabled users, its mobile plans are open to everybody. Way said non-disabled users would subsidise the cost of care offered to disabled users.

The plans

Jeenee approached Optus after Telstra indicated a lack of interest in the project, Way said.

Optus offered the MVNO some “valuable concessions”, such as cost-free calls to Jeenee’s help centre.

The organisation’s plans are similarly priced to those offered by Optus. The 24-month plans range from $30 ($200 call and SMS value and 100MB data) per month, to $80 ($850 call value, 6000 SMS and 1GB data) per month.

The BYO plans offer the same value from $25 to $60 a month without a minimum contract period.

Two-yearly customers can choose from a range of smartphones and feature phones from Samsung, Sony HTC and LG. The company is currently only offering mobile services but is looking at adding data and fixed services.

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