Billions of people use USSD every month to top up airtime, check their data balance, pay utility bills, send money, and more. But USSD has been notoriously difficult for developers to access and build on, hindered by a non-existence or lack of access to relevant APIs from financial service providers, mobile network operators, and mobile operating systems. As a result, billions of people spend hours every year keying in hard-to-remember text strings and enduring session timeouts, entry errors, and indecipherable network messages. Imagine if the Internet never evolved from a command line interface to a graphical interface with the advent of browsers — that’s USSD today.
USSD, which stands for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, is a session-based protocol within the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard. It’s been hailed as “The Third Universal App” alongside Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Short Message Service (SMS) due to its universal availability, and it’s the protocol of choice for everything from basic network commands to mobile financial services. Without USSD, the world would be a very different place.
But USSD is a walled garden. It’s been controlled and restricted by mobile network operators in ways IVR and SMS never were, blocking innovation and denying people the fundamental right to choose where and how they communicate and transact. Some countries have passed regulations to tear down this wall, but they are few and far between.
That changes today.
We started Hover to enable developers to build for the world around them and create a more inclusive internet. Our first product, a software development kit (SDK) for Android, enables developers to initiate USSD commands, read responses, and auto-fill inputs in the background of any application running Android 4.3 or above (96.4% of global distribution).
If a service is available via USSD, no matter what or where that service is, developers can now automate it from end-to-end in an hour or less.
Hover users have built apps that let people manage multiple mobile money accounts from a single interface, pay merchants via QR codes, buy data bundles with the tap of a button, and more. If you’ve been sitting on an idea waiting for the right APIs or want to explore what’s possible, we’d love to hear from you.
We’ll share more in the coming weeks, so watch this space. For now, the takeaway is this: No one can stand in your way anymore.