Interesting Reads on Cellular … with some prerspective from Africa

2008 September 29
by Ismail Dhorat

Here are are few of the interesting articles i have read in the past week on mobile and some of my thoughts.

SMS to the rescue, Text Messaging bridges the digital divide

“Ken Banks and kiwanja.net have developed the FrontlineSMS text-messaging hub that allows two-way communication between NGOs and their field workers using the SMS functionality of mobile phones. SMS stands for “short message service” and is also referred to as text messaging.” Read More

Something similar to what ushahdi is doing as well, using SMS/Text messaging as the key means of communication or data sourcing. The main issue in Africa, is that a large portion of the population only have access to a mobile and it’s their primary means of communication. These are real solutions for Africa. Other solutions to explore would be, A simple auction system via SMS i.e fisherman can run it via their mobile to get the best/highest price for their catch.

Cell Phones Make head way in Education

“Abilene Christian University will hand out Apples Iphone 3G smartphone to two-thirds of this year’s entering class of 950 freshmen. Students will be expected to use the devices to brainstorm ideas and get virtual handouts and podcasts during class.” Read More

E-learning 2.0? Thou there are a few issues,

  • Cost factors with high end devices (i.e IPhone) which costs more then a OLPC or even EEPC
  • Some reports are not really convinced on the effect of OLPC on education

Visa to bring mobile payment services to Google Phone

“Visa said it would work to eventually make phones running on Google’s Android mobile operating system able to pay for items in lieu of a credit or debit card. The notion of a mobile wallet has attracted the industry for a while and has been popular overseas, but so far hasn’t gained much traction in the U.S.” Read more

Several years ago at a company i worked for i was part of the tender committee tasked with replacing a particular mobile community phone payment solution. There was quite an interesting payment solution that tendered which solved some the problems faced in Africa Though it suffered some drawbacks as well.

The system basically worked on a finger print + a smart card, you could use this to pay for your calls as well as at stores that had the equipment . The dealer was given a card as well, money was transferred electronically between cards. The dealer/merchant could also function as a bank of Sort’s i.e People could use their cards to withdraw cash. This solved the issue of having to go to a bank (Which can be a problem in some of the remote areas).

However the system faced a few issues, Cost of the transactions, Cost of the devices(bio metric+card readers) and cost of the smart cards which had to be passed on to the customer with the target market being very low income. We felt it was an unnecessary expense and it also faced issues with user education / merchant education, Service and Support.

If the same concept could be replaced rather with a “Prepaid balance” , so there are no additional costs with regards to smart cards/devices etc. This could then be used as a “Virtual bank” account of Sorts with your airtime becoming your “Virtual Currency”. It could be used to recharge customer accounts by accepting cash, and dispose of that by accepting transfers and providing cash in return. Payment could be made for items, with the simple form of and Airtime transfer(This is currently being done informally) At some point however, the merchant should be able transfer his airtime or credit his bank account.

A workable idea? I think so, it’s already being done informally.

Also read Erik’s Round of of his Presentation at Picnic in Amsterdam where he covers some mobile payment solutions.

Worldwide Cellular growth to reach 4 billion by late 2008 -

“Since the turn of the century, the growth of mobile cellular subscribers has been impressive, with year-on-year growth averaging 24 per cent between 2000 and 2008. While in 2000, mobile penetration stood at only 12 per cent, it surpassed the 50 per cent mark by early 2008. It is estimated to reach about 61 per cent by the end of 2008.” Read more

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