Prepaid Wireless Cards Revealed!
Prepaid Wireless Cards go
- Topup Cards
- Replenishment Cards
- Payment Cards
- Airtime Cards
- Refill Cards
of what people call them, they all have the same basic, and critically
important(!) function of
getting money onto your prepaid wireless account
Prepaid cards were one of the first replenishment products on
the market, and are still common in various formats despite
the evolution to better full electronic products due to their fantastic
merchandising element, and sales simplicity.
all typically have the same general characteristics:
- They display
the dollar amount (often referred to as the denomination), which
is the value of the card (this can be different
from the amount you actually pay for it due sales tax at the point of
scratch off section on the back with a PIN
(Personal Identification Number) underneath - typically 10-15 digits
- Instructions on how to
"redeem" your PIN (i.e. how to add the money to your wireless account).
- Legal terms
and conditions (usually too small and awkward to read!).
customer support phone number to call should you have a problem with
The process of buying a card and adding, or applying it to
account using a PIN is usually called "redemption" or "redeeming the
card or PIN." This two-step process is pretty
some challenges, which we'll get into a bit later.
wonder why some
stores hang their
prepaid wireless cards on the shelf in plain view, while other stores
keep them locked up behind the counter or in the safe in the back in
the back of the store?
It's all about theft!
on the technology in the store, you'll see cards sold in different
POSA (Point Of Sale Activation)
I know what you're thinking...what's that?! Well don't
most people I worked with had the same question. Unless
you're working behind the scenes directly with these products, it's a
pretty unusual thing to just know off the top of your head.
good news is that it's easily demystified. POSA stands for
Of Sale Activation." So what does that mean?
POSA addresses theft...
Consider a big retail store like Target or Walmart. They want
products to hang on the wall so they're easy for you to grab,
cart, and take to the checkout stand. Unfortunately, there
some people out there who aren't honest like you and I, and instead of
throwing that $20 prepaid wireless card in their cart, they place the
card in their back pocket and walk out of the store without paying.
A sad, but true reality.
So, to allow stores to hang these prepaid
wireless cards on
the shelf without the risk of theft, inactive, or
"cold cards" are kept on the shelf. So if the card is stolen
without being purchased, it simply won't
work. It's pretty straightforward in concept, however, the
activation process involves some technology.
How does POSA work?
the store's sales
register is connected to a technology vendor. When the clerk
scans or swipes the card for you, they are actually capturing the
serial number of the card (not the PIN!). They send that
number to the technology vendor. The technology vendor then
up the PIN that's tied to that serial number and activates the PIN
(often referred to as turning it "hot"). If this activation
process is successful, the clerk receives a success response on their
register. This tells them that the card is now good to go,
they can sell you the card. It's important to note that all
this happens in real time while you're standing at the
register in literally seconds. Now you can leave the store
redeem the card! It's really analogous to how a credit card
works by checking with your bank in real time whether you have
sufficient credit available on your card for the purchase; it's a
real time validation.
Non-POSA, or Hot Cards
Having just learned about POSA above, you know the hard
Non-POSA (i.e. not POSA) cards are simply cards that are hot
the store. Smaller stores like
wireless dealers used to use these are their main product as it doesn't
require any real time capable technology. These
stores are much more intimate than large retailers, and they don't have
to worry about putting all of their products on the shelf.
of these dealers will keep their wireless cards in the cash register or
even in the back locked in a safe. Seriously! Think
these cards as a stack of cash. You definitely wouldn't want
leave them lying around. Note, however, that prepaid wireless
carriers have largely eliminated this card type, and you can
consider it to be an extinct product. I include it here so as
to represent all possible refill products, and for completeness.
Safeguarding Cash (i.e.
What you might be asking yourself now is 'how do they get the cards in
the first place'? It definitely wouldn't be safe for the
to produce, warehouse, and ship stacks of prepaid wireless cards that
are essentially piles of cash! Hopefully none do.
I can't speak to what all of the carriers have done in the past, I do
know that the
industry standard process was to produce the cards cold, store them in
the warehouse cold, and even ship them to the stores cold.
when the dealer receives a shipment of cards, they use various tools to
contact the wireless carrier. The carrier then activates some
all of the cards at the dealer's request. They call this
or "batch" activation.
you can imagine, Hot cards have many risks (i.e. storing wads of
cash in your store), however, it was a great solution for low tech
stores that don't have partnerships or technology to support more
advanced procedures. It's actually fair to say that Hot cards
the original replenishment products for most major prepaid wireless
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