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Mexican mobile phone operator granted a reprieve

Tue, 2010-04-13 21:36
Mexico's biggest mobile phone operator America Movil said Tuesday it has been granted a provisional court order against having to suspend customers who haven't registered their numbers in a mandatory government database. The WSJ reports.

... The government is still processing millions of registrations that were sent in online or via mobile phones. Authorities are also still accepting late registrations, and lines haven't yet been cut off.

Read full article.

Previously: Mexico may cut millions of cell phones to fight crime


Mobile app developers tackle Africa’s biggest problems

Mon, 2010-04-12 17:55
Mobile app developers are sprouting in Africa to help tackle that continent’s problems. Many create applications that can be used with phone text messages. The African technologists say local knowledge is key to their successes. CNN reports:

“While developers in the United States rush to make flashy games for Apple’s latest gizmo, the iPad, these young developers are trying to tackle Africa’s most vexing problems.

Many are doing so with simple text message applications on phones that cost no more than $25.

Text message phone apps now help African people check market prices, transfer money, learn languages and alert authorities to the need for food or other aid in the event of a disaster. And this all comes despite Africa’s reputation as the “least wired” continent in the world.”

Read article

Gaon Ki Awaaz features on <b>MobileActive</b>.org

Sat, 2010-04-10 09:13
MobileActive.org, one of the best websites on mobile phone projects, has done a big story on Gaon Ki Awaaz. The story, headlined Gaon Ki Awaaz: News alerts for rural villagers, notes: One call can bring news to hundreds in rural ...

Mexico may cut millions of cellphones to fight crime

Fri, 2010-04-09 14:59
According to Reuters, tens of millions of Mexicans could find their cellphones disconnected this weekend if the government goes ahead with a new law meant to fight crime by forcing people to register their identities.

Advertisements on government radio and television have been urging Mexicans for weeks to register their cellphones by sending their personal details as a text message, but on Thursday 30 million lines remained unregistered as the Saturday deadline neared.

Read full article.


Google's Android Market is catching on. Big time.

Fri, 2010-04-09 07:12
According to Information Week, Google's Android Market hit the 20,000 app milestone right around the beginning of 2010. Today, the Android market has closer to 42,000 applications.

So far in April, the Market has added 2,230. In March, the Market swelled by 9,308, in February it grew by 5,532, and in January some 4,458 apps were added.

The Android Market's 42,000 apps may still pale in comparison to market leader Apple, which has somewhere north of 140,000 apps, but the sudden surge in growth indicates at least one key thing.

Android is catching on. Big time.

Read full article


Fair Mobile Report from South America (via @<b>mobileactive</b>)

Thu, 2010-04-08 21:53
The South American research network, DIRSI, have just published a report entitled “Tariffs and affordability gap of mobile telephony services in Latin America and the Caribbean” which profiles mobile affordability in Latin America and ...

Fair Mobile Research from South America

Thu, 2010-04-08 20:31

The South American research network, DIRSI, have just published a report entitled “Tariffs and affordability gap of mobile telephony services in Latin America and the Caribbean” which profiles mobile affordability in Latin America and the Caribbean.   In this post I contrast their approach with my own fledgling work on a Fair Mobile index for Africa.

If you read my Fair Mobile post, you may remember that I chose to map how many minutes of mobile use and how many text messages one could send for a day’s labour at minimum wage in different African countries.  I used an ILO database of minimum wage information and scraped the call/SMS charges from operator websites.  As way of dealing with the myriad call plans available, in each country I chose prime-time, cross-network pricing from the dominant mobile operator.  Obviously this doesn’t take into account special offers or on-net discounts but it does offer a reasonable market snapshot.

The weakness in my approach has been the minimum wage data.  To begin with it was only available for 22 African countries and I was really looking for something more comprehensive.  Worse than that though, was the realisation the there can be several “minimum wage” standards in a given country.  Minimum wage for an urban worker is not the same as minimum wage for an urban worker which is often different again for a domestic worker.  If anyone knows of a good source of minimum wage data for Africa, I would really love to know about it.

So how have the DIRSI researchers gone about their work?  First they decided to go with a fixed amount of mobile usage.  They used an OECD standard for low mobile phone usage over a year, which is 360 calls and 396 text messages.  This averages out to one call and one text message per day.  Using the OECD standard gives them the advantage of being able to compare their price basket, once calculated, with OECD country information.

To be able to compare the above costs with income, they took income data from the Socio-Economic Database for Latin America and the Caribbean which maintains income data broken down into deciles of income for all countries in the region.  Sadly, as far as I am able to determine, this sort of data doesn’t exist in any sort of comprehensive source for African countries.

Having obtained the income data, they made the following assumptions:

  • They chose the third decile of income as a proxy threshold for earners at the bottom of the pyramid
  • They determined that the bar for affordability in mobile spending was spending less than 5% of total income on mobile services

Monthly spend based on OECD low-usage basket

I assume they chose 5% for their bar because expenditure on telecommunications in developed countries is around 2-3% percent of income.

This provides some interesting results.  You can see from bar charts like the one below  that there is a huge variance in affordability.  This is consistent with my findings across African countries.

Monthly cost in R$ for OECD low-usage basket mapped against deciles of income.

More interesting though is the country charts that they are able to generate which illustrates affordability across income brackets.  In this chart at the right  you can see that in Brazil, communication is deemed affordable for about 10% of the population.  The whole report is worth the read and can downloaded from the DIRSI website.  It is only available in Spanish at the moment but a translation is planned and Google Translates actually does a very passable job with it.

I think an interesting avenue to pursue with Fair Mobile would be to explore links between mobile costs and other indicators, perhaps corruption indicators or GINI coefficients.   Stand by for more.  Suggestions welcome.

Cell Phones: The 7th Mass Media

Thu, 2010-04-08 08:03
While mobile phones will not be the death of print, television or the Internet, it has proven to be a huge and unique new platform for delivering content, for some, it's the 7th Mass Media. [via cellphones.org]

The 6 mass medias are in order : Print, Recordings, Cinema, Radio, TV and the Internet.

Via: Cell Phones


CGAP invites you to the 2010 Mobile Money Summit

Wed, 2010-04-07 17:43

Mobile banking can bring low-cost financial services to millions of people, especially in developing countries where banking services are not readily available. The GSMA Mobile Money Summit 2010 will provide the insights, solutions and connections to make the most of this global phenomenon.

Learn more at

This year’s Mobile Money Summit will be held 25-26 May in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - and as a founding partner of this important gathering, CGAP will be there for the third year running.

A CGAP discount code and offer of free passes is available to members of the CGAP Mobile Banking and Microfinance Group on Linkedin.

-Jim Rosenberg

SMS system for rapid response to forest fires

Wed, 2010-04-07 16:45
Another good use of SMS as written up by Indian Express.

In a bid to cut response time to forest fires, the Forest Survey of India (FSI) — using satellite information from the University of Maryland — has begun sending out instant SMSes to forest staff and civilians when a forest fire is detected via the satellite.

Earlier, FSI would send faxes to the Principal Conservator of Forests of states where fires were detected. “It was a lengthy process. Under the new system that started 10 days ago, we sent out SMSes as soon as we detected a fire, giving the latitude and longitude co-ordinates of the spot,” says R D Jakati, Director General, FSI.


Rethinking Schumacher

Wed, 2010-04-07 08:51

Ever since I came across Fritz Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” at University back in 1997, I’ve been a close follower of the appropriate technology movement. Although for many appropriate technology is associated with ploughs, stoves and farming implements, for some time I’ve been thinking about how it applies to the work we do with mobile. I tackled this in a PC World article a couple of years ago, and more recently in a blog post on how appropriate “cloud-based” mobile solutions are in a world where so many people are yet to be reliably connected to the web.

Now the World Watch Institute have taken the discussion a step further in an excellent article in the May/June edition of their magazine. In it, John Mulrow argues that, if carried out appropriately, Schumacher’s original concept of local initiatives, local ownership and local innovation can be applied to today’s mobile world, despite mobile phones being a technology often designed, developed and controlled from the ‘outside’. This is one of the best articles yet on mobile vs. appropriate technology, and is well worth a read.

“Think Mobile, Act Local” is available as a PDF here.

You want cell phone entrepreneurs, we’ll give you cell phone entrepreneurs

Wed, 2010-04-07 04:40

Last week we posted some cool maps showing the spread of cell phones especially in Africa over the last decade. We called this “a triumph of bottom-up entrepreneurial success,” but you weren’t convinced. You thought it was foreign direct investment (FDI). Provide more evidence that entrepreneurs are part of this picture, you said. Aid Watch never declines a challenge:

1) OK, it’s true that 52 percent of the African Market is dominated by 6 multinationals: Orange (France), Vodafone/Vodacom (UK/South Africa), Zain (Kuwait), MTN (South Africa), Moov (UAE), and Tigo (Luxembourg).  But that other 48 percent is the battleground of dozens more, many of them home-grown.  (Also we heard a rumor that South Africa is located somewhere in Africa.) To give an example from The White Man’s Burden:

Entrepreneur Alieu Conteh started building a cellular network in the Democratic Republic of the Congo … when it was still in the midst of its civil war in the 1990s. He couldn’t get foreign manufacturers to ship cellular towers into the country with rebel soldiers around, so he got local men to weld scrap metal into a makeshift tower. Demand exploded for Conteh’s phones, and in 2001 he formed a joint venture with the South African firm Vodacom. One illiterate fisherwoman who lives in the Congo without electricity relies on her cell phone to sell her fish. She can’t put the fish in a freezer, so she keeps them alive on a line in the river until customers call to place an order.

Sudanese-born entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim is another example. His mobile telecom company, Celtel, had about 5 million subscribers in 13 African countries when it was sold in 2004 for $3.4 billion. 100 Celtel employees, most of them African, earned more than $1 million from the sale. Celtel is now part of Kuwaiti-owned Zain, which serves 40 million subscribers in 17 African countries.

2) Being a successful mobile operator often requires big infrastructure investments, so it’s no surprise many of the first telecom firms to enter the African mobile market have been large. Multinationals investing in Africa to provide millions of Africans with essential service is a GOOD thing. Yes, the market needs more  effective regulation, increased competition, and lower end-user costs, but those trends are now happening.

3) Multinationals spur smaller entrepreneurs. The Nigerian telecom sector has created some 450,000 indirect jobs since it was liberalized in 2000. And Uganda’s five mobile operators provide employment for more than 100,000 people, who work for the operators directly or indirectly, selling airtime or handsets. An Economist article noted:

In 2003 Ms [Mary] Wokhwale was one of the first 15 women in Uganda to become “village phone” operators. Thanks to a microfinance loan, she was able to buy a basic handset and a roof-mounted antenna to ensure a reliable signal. She went into business selling phone calls to other villagers, making a small profit on each call. This enabled her to pay back her loan and buy a second phone. The income from selling phone calls subsequently enabled her to set up a business selling beer, open a music and video shop and help members of her family pay their children’s school fees.

4) Finally, farmers and fishermen now check prices in markets across the country before selling their goods, while unbanked buyers can make payments with mobile banking technologies. Individual entrepreneurs are beneficiaries of mobile technology’s spread in a big way.

Case Study: DIY Mobile Social Networking

Tue, 2010-04-06 13:30
We Harlem is a social network for residents in the Harlem region of New York City. It was set up just a  few months ago, and has been enthusiastically received by Harlem residents.
We Harlem gives users a very personal and localised experience, with the means to interact and make connections with other people in the neighbourhood, find out about forthcoming events, or up and coming bars, clubs and restaurants.
The site is the brainchild of Sergio Lilavois, who set up We Harlem because he recognised that local residents in the Harlem region of New York needed a more effective way to find out what was happening in the community. At the moment, the site is free, but eventually, Sergio hopes to support the network with advertising revenue from those local firms.
Key to the network’s success is that is so tailored to its niche audience. Lilavois belives that Twitter is “too big”, so wanted to create something far more focused.  However, he also wanted to focus on the content, not the technology, so rather than building the service from scratch, he investigated the market to see if anyone provided white-label microblogging and settle on the DIY social network creation too from Shoutem. “Shoutem stood out from the crowd,” says Lilavois.  
Shoutem enables users to easily and quickly create their own mobile-optimised social networks that are private, location-based and targeted to niche groups. Networks can be created in just minutes. Currently free to download, Shoutem includes mobile apps for the iPhone and Blackberry handsets. 
“Shoutem is the best fit for what we are looking for: good features, reliable technology and the Shoutem team has been very responsive and efficient,” says Lilavois. “I like the flow of Shoutem: it is not complicated and people can easily see what to do. It’s a very user-friendly interface.”
Lilavois is an enthusiastic supporter of the mobile, location-based features included within Shoutem.  “People spend a lot of their time communicating on their mobiles.  50% of the time I’m logged into Shoutem myself it’s from my mobile device. It’s great that there’s a mobile application for Shoutem, not just an API. It’s meant we haven’t needed to develop it ourselves,” he says.
Shoutem says that Lilavois’ experience with We Harlem shows that the marketing potential of mobile social networks is now within reach of anyone with a great idea, regardless of their technology experience or budget.

India. Voice calling gets the news to rural villagers

Tue, 2010-04-06 07:31
MobileActive.org reports on projects in India, whereby news updates are distributed through voice calls.

Widespread illiteracy makes newspapers and SMS alerts inadequate as news delivery systems, and irregular electricity makes television and radio unreliable. Voice calls are also very inexpensive in India, with per-second billing and a downward price-war among the main operators. Voice calls over mobile phones are an easy way for villagers to stay informed.

Click here for case study.


Creating voter registers using mobile phones

Mon, 2010-04-05 08:56
The East African on how mobile phones used in money transactions, already tied to citizens’ identity cards, could be moved onto electronic voting.

In East Africa, where the technical infrastructure of distributing such certificates does not really exist outside of the mobile phone companies, a password or PIN number combination akin to that used in money transfers would likely suffice to authenticate the voter.

It would then be easy to have the voter select from a list of candidates and the information sent to the tallying centres.

The cost reductions would be considerable. And, we already use this technology — in the many sms polls used to decide the popularity of singers in East Africa’s various versions of Pop Idol.

Read full article.


Mobile-based livelihood services in Africa

Fri, 2010-04-02 05:35
“Mobile-based livelihood services in Africa: pilots and early deployments” is a new paper by Jonathan Donner, a researcher in the Technology for Emerging Markets Group at Microsoft Research India,

The paper describes a collection of initiatives delivering support via mobile phones to small enterprises, small farms, and the self-employed. Using a review of 26 examples of such services currently operational in Africa, the analysis identifies five functions of mobile livelihood services: Mediated Agricultural Extension, Market Information, Virtual Marketplaces, Financial Services, and Direct Livelihood Support. It discusses the current reliance of such systems on the SMS channel, and considers their role in supporting vs. transforming existing market structures.

It was published in Communication technologies in Latin America and Africa: A multidisciplinary perspective (pp. 37-58), edited by Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol and Adela Ros.

Download chapter (all other papers are also online)

There is a also a youtube video of Donner’s paper presentation at the original conference in Barceona.

Jan Chipchase (Nokia) guest blogging for CGAP

Thu, 2010-04-01 17:01
The title might be a bit cryptic for some readers, but Jan Chipchase is a well-known user researcher/anthropologist at Nokia. He spent a decade exploring the intersection of technology, people and culture for Nokia, and specializes in turning insights into opportunities.

CGAP is an independent policy and research center dedicated to advancing financial access for the world’s poor, housed at the World Bank.

His first post, which obviously deals with the topic of mobile banking in emerging markets, is just an introduction, but we will surely follow his contributions.

How Android Security Stacks Up

Thu, 2010-04-01 04:00

An Android phone's approach to security is radically different from an iPhone's--but is it better?

Today's smart phones have all the speed, storage, and network connectivity of desktop computers from a few years ago. Because of this, they're a treasure trove of personal information--and likely the next battleground for computer security.

(author unknown)

Mobile data traffic to undergo massive growth

Wed, 2010-03-31 14:54
These reports have become so ubiquitous they almost are not "news" any more. But a study released Tuesday predicts that U.S. mobile Web data traffic will grow by 117 percent annually for the next 5 years. That growth, from 8 petabytes per month this year to 327 petabytes per month in 2015, represents a 40-fold increase.

According to Coda Research, much of the growth will come from video consumption, which by 2015 could account for nearly 70 percent of mobile Web data traffic. By that time, Coda predicts, 60 percent of U.S. cell users will watch video on their handsets. Last month Coda forecast that 149 million Wi-Fi enabled phones would be in use in the U.S. within that same 2015 time frame.

Consumers are adopting mobile computing devices rapidly. In December 2009, data traffic exceeded voice traffic on U.S. cell networks for the first time. Last month, the FCC proposed migrating more TV broadcast frequencies to mobile broadband to accommodate future demands on the system.
> Study predicts massive growth in mobile video (Guardian)

Damon Kiesow

As Mobile Phones Take Over, Colombians Discover “Real Time” While Regulators Face Challenges

Tue, 2010-03-30 03:05

By César Caballero

29 March 2010

(Bogota, Colombia)--In “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” the science historian Thomas Kuhn asserts that such revolutions take place when a dramatic shift occurs in the prevailing paradigm: the lens through which we view the realities of the world. [1] In Colombia, the growth of information technology and the communication sector in the last 5 years clearly constitutes a radical transformation in the way in which we view and how we relate to the world.

According to the Public Services Superintendent’s Office, the number of Colombians with a fixed telephone line has been decreasing, from a peak of 7.92 million in 2007 to 7.73 million at the end of 2009 , or from one in every18 habitants to one in every 17. [2]

Meanwhile, the Industry and Commerce Superintendent’s Office, which regulates cellular phone service, says the number of cellular phone customers increased from 6.1 million in 2003 to 42.3 million in the third quarter of 2009. [3] Three international companies provide mobile services in Colombia: two European and one from Mexico. The market is dominated by the latter, Comcel, with a 67% share of the mobile phone market . [4]

Cell phones - the social impact

The decrease of fixed lines and the rise of mobile phones are generating a profound change in our society, exemplified by some now-commonly used Colombian phrases that had little meaning only a few years ago: “I’m out of minutes”; “Will you lend me a minute?”; “Do you know where I can get hold of minutes?”

In other words, our relationship with time is transforming insofar as communication is becoming more rapid: these days every minute, not just every day, month and year, counts. It is imperative to be in constant communication and it is a necessity that a person is able to be instantly located, as much for work as for family and personal relationships.

The technological transformation is not limited to the upper income or career levels. For example, a bus conductor receives cellular phone messages or calls from his supervisor asking him to drive slower or speed up to complete the bus route.

Meanwhile, new types of businesses have developed. Notably, internet and telephone cabins have been installed in low-income areas and surveys have been run through cellular phones and PDAs. Working mothers can be contacted by their children. Doctors are no longer dependent on using beepers, and they can be called to duty through a simple text message.

Evolving regulatory landscape

The communications business continues to transform. According to the Telecommunications Regulation Commission, another entity that regulates the service in the country, mobile phone services account for 37 percent of total sales in the sector. [5]

In terms of internet access, the country relies on 10 large service providers, most of which are local public companies that also provide fixed telephone services. There were 2.1 million Internet connections in 2009, and the vast majority (1.8 million) were broadband connections. Four of the service providers control 82% of the market (EPM Telecomunicaciones controls 22.3%, Une 20.8%, Colombia Telecomunicaciones 20.2% and Telmex Hogar 18.7% ), which means that despite being smaller than the cellular phone market, for the moment, it is more competitive. [6]

Up to this point, I have mentioned three entities that regulate the sector in some way, but there are others, including: The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, the Superintendent’s Office for Commerce and Societies, and if a company wants to trade on the stock market, then they must respond to the Banking Superintendent’s Office. Additionally, if a telephone operator provides television services by subscription, then the National Television Commission will act as a monitor.

It can be assumed that these entities do not always agree on how the sector should be regulated, or on the type of information that should be generated in this new world.

For example, more than 11 government offices regulate one company in the sector, some promoting and facilitating the integration of services and others acting as an obstruction. In other words, both the companies that provide the services and the customers that use the services are caught within an infinite tangle.

The complexities of these changes are exemplified by the above-mentioned figure regarding the number of active cellular phone lines. According to national statistics, the population of Colombia above the age of 5 in 2009 was 40,699,504 , and as noted above, in 2009, there were 42.3 million cellular phone customers. [7] This figure could be interpreted to show that all Colombians above 5 years old have 1.04 active cellular phones. This is a rather unreasonable claim. In other words, is it not that easy to answer the question: how many cellular phone users are there today in Colombia?

Further changes will require new types of regulation, concentrating on the convergence of services and developing distinct forms of research and ways to measure this vital part of our everyday lives.

Is it enough to know the number of Internet subscribers, or should we strive to understand the habits of the consumer better? Should people just be left to use their computers or should we have a type of People meter, like those used for television, for the Internet too? As usual, the market moves faster than the regulatory system, and as such, without any doubt, the system is no longer effective.

Be prepared: the communications sector stands before an important paradigmatic change that will instigate the transformation of the regulatory system. This will act as a catalyst for a change in the way that we collect data, and realize development and research. In a short while, we will not only have information regarding Internet connection times and the Web pages visited, but also about the way we “surf” the web and types of behavior that specific users demonstrate.

Internet users tend to make decisions faster on the Web and, as such, research needs to account for this reality by exploring how specific segments of society act on the web (such as children, youth and persons with a high income). We are at the tipping point of a scientific revolution.

 Related Material:
Urban Colombia Country Profile
Country Overview of Internet Access and Use
Field Blog: In Colombia, Street Vendors Hawk Candy, Cigarettes...and Mobile Minutes


[1] T.S. Kuhn, “La Estructura de las revoluciones científicas” (“The structure of scientific revolutions”, México, 1985.

[2] Public Services Superintendent’s Office, http://www.superservicios.gov.co/home/web/guest/inicio

[3] Industry and Commerce Superintendent’s Office, http://www.sic.gov.co/

[4] Ministry of Information Technology and Communications, http://www.mintic.gov.co/mincom/faces/index.jsp?id=#

[5] The Telecommunication Regulation Commission, http://www.crcom.gov.co/index.php?lang=en

[6] SIUST, Sistema de Información Unificado del Sector de las Telecomunicaciones, http://www.siust.gov.co/siust/

[7] El Departmento Administrativo Nacional de Estatistica (DANE), proyecciones poblacionales, 2005-2011, http://www.dane.gov.co/daneweb_V09/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=75&Itemid=72