Africans in Houston Sign up to Swedish App to make cheap calls home

Rebtel, a Swedish mobile app company, has become a household name within Houston’s African community, mainly comprised of more than 40,000 Nigerians, because it allows them to connect with relatives and friends in areas with low internet speeds or no internet at all — unlike free international calling and texting services such as WhatsApp and Viber, which require both parties to have a wireless internet connection according to this report in the Houston Chronicle.

When Waidi Shodimu needs to call family in Nigeria, he heads to Southwest Farmers Market, an African grocery store inside the beltway, to meet with Tolulope Aladejobi.

Aladejobi, a sales representative for the international calling app, Rebtel, is often stationed at a bright red table at the store’s entrance. Upon seeing Shodimu, she accepts his phone and credit card. She proceeds to load credits for calls to his account while he completes his grocery shopping.

Rebtel, a Swedish mobile app company, has become a household name within Houston’s African community, mainly comprised of more than 40,000 Nigerians, and is seeking to expand here. Rebtel, which surpassed $100 million in revenues this year and has more than 100,000 customers in Texas, will open its first U.S. storefront next to the Southwest Farmers Market before the end of year.

“Our ambition is to be a part of the community,” said Magnus Larson, Rebtel’s CEO.

The Rebtel app has become popular with African immigrants because it allows them to connect with relatives and friends in areas with low internet speeds or no internet at all — unlike free international calling and texting services such as WhatsApp and Viber, which require both parties to have a wireless internet connection. Rebtel offers prepaid plans through its app, with rates that are competititive wtih traditional phone cards.

For calls to Nigeria, customers can buy 41 minutes for $5 or 83 minutes for $10. If customers sign up for a $3 a month membership, they can get 76 minutes for $5.

Rebtel, headquartered in Stockholm, is competing for a piece of the $80 billlion international calling market by focusing on migrant communities around the world. The company launched its app in 2006 with the broad goal of being a one-stop shop for individuals starting over in new countries. The first step was offering immigrants a way to check in with loved ones back home by creating an easy, affordable international calling system. The company plans to add money transfer and digital banking services through the app for immigrants’ financial needs.

For now, customers can download the app, create an account by verifying their U.S. phone number, then add their phone’s contacts and their credit information. From there customers can purchase time in the app and simply call the uploaded numbers the way they would when making a phone call in the United States.

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