Posts tagged ‘Mobile’

ICT4D Twitter Chat, November

Wayan Vota at ICTWorks convened a lively chat today on information & communication technologies for development – or ICT4D. Expect to see another chat in December.

The hour flew by! After introductions we highlighted projects we admire, projects that have failed, and the problems with cloud computing in developing nations. (On that last point, I note that you can’t even get reliable access to the cloud in the US, depending on which smartphone you’re carrying or which highly-attended tech event you’re at.)

From the chatlog archive, here are some favorites:

The barrier is the carrier. (@jongos)

…we think lots of sun with intermittent rain then! offline needs to work seamlessly with infrequent on-line? (@meowtree)

My thoughts on cloud4d lately have steered toward a highly local, in-country cloud. Reliance on undersea cables too risky. (@downeym)

Donor agencies sobering up after being drunk on internet. (@travis_a)

…second hand, inexpensive, locally sourced equipment > new and shiney equipment that fails in dust and heat (@theresac)

Seems people still thinking, develop in West and take it to Africa who lags. Need to develop in Africa within resource & context (@africastrategy)

Technology is easy. Issues around geography, language, culture, true empowerment and paths to adoption are challenges. (@kiwanja)

Other discussion:

If you have a project that does originate in a developed country, how do you bridge the gap to the developing country? Several people pointed to stories of close on-site collaboration, even co-design, with local experts and users. Remote mentoring, say in the style of MicroMentor, is an additional tool.

How are people attracted to a new service, and what keeps them there? Agriculture, health, and education applications get the press – but it’s music, social media, sports, entertainment, and (yes) porn that have driven adoption in developing and developed nations. In terms of infrastructure, there was also criticism of mobile ICT buses (in India and Rwanda) as less effective, compared to stable ICT centers that become a predictable fixture in a community.

There are two more leads I’ll be watching. First, Cyclos, which provides free and open source banking and mobile payment tools. Second, Question Box, a project creating local information kiosks via mobile networks, has also gone open source.

Update: Take a look at Movirtu, a very smart mobile phone-sharing infrastructure for people earning less than $2 USD a day.  Users have a card plus PIN, and log into their mobile account using any phone on the same network as their account. The people who lend out the phones are rewarded with credits. And users can designate someone who is online more frequently to receive notifications, so they don’t miss important messages or money transfers.

November 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

Who uses mobile broadband? Guess again.

Hispanic Broadband Access ReportHispanics trail other US populations in overall internet access, but rely heavily on mobile phones and even mobile broadband. A greater proportion of Hispanics and African Americans use mobile broadband (53% and 58% respectively), with both communities ahead of whites (33%).

These figures come from The Hispanic Institute and the Mobile Future coalition. Their short white paper highlights Hispanic market opportunities for mobile broadband access and applications. It’s a market 48 million strong, and also a community in which broadband access is key to economic opportunity and social benefits.

Some other highlights from the report:

  • Hispanics are more mobile than the general U.S. population and, thus, rely more on cell phones. In fact, compared to Americans generally, Hispanics account for more minutes used and for a higher percentage of cell-phone ownership despite their relatively low incomes.
  • Given that roughly 40% of U.S. Hispanics are born abroad, in countries where wireless service often is more common than landline phones, the American Hispanic community is more open to mobile broadband than many other population groups. This familiarity makes the leap to smartphones and other connected mobile devices a more intuitive step for many than turning to wired, home broadband adoption and computer usage.
  • In 2008, Hispanics outpaced the general population in accessing and downloading digital media (music, video, audio, movies, television programs, video games and podcasts), 42% to 35%.

September 22, 2009 at 5:44 pm Leave a comment

Carnival of Mobilists #190, plus events

Caroline Lewko from WIPJAM hosts Carnival of Mobilists #190. This week’s collection includes A Mobile Learning Roundup of Sorts with news from the (Northern Hemisphere) summer season. We also get a snapshot of the fragmented world of developing for mobile – proliferation of platforms, barriers to app acceptance, and the rise of the netbook.

And a WIPJam itself may be coming to your town.

WIP (Wireless Industry Partnership) is about connecting developers to the information, resources and people important for innovation, growing your business and getting to market faster. …

Jam Sessions are interactive and definitely not boring.  We mean it when we say No PPT, No Panels and No Ties! WIP Jam sessions are a unique format for mobile and wireless developers, where we blend ‘unpanels’, with intimate discussion groups led by industry leaders and developers alike.  And it’s really very interactive – we make sure everyone gets a chance to be heard.

There’s a WIPJAM @ OSIM (Open Source in Mobile World) in Amsterdam next week, September 16, and also WIPJAM @ CTIA in San Diego, CA on October 8.

I’ll be at an event closer to home next month: Mobile 2.0. It’s really two conferences in two locations: a business day in San Francisco October 15, and a developer day in Mountain View October 16. I’m registered for the latter… but if a free pass turned up for the biz day I’d take it in a shot.

September 8, 2009 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

Carnival of Carnivals Aug. 31, 2009

Cirque Rider, from Rae Belkin

Carnival is the current festive term for a news roundup, particularly if it’s participatory. It’s much happier than news in brief. Here are three I enjoy.

Have a carnival or roundup you like? Add your favorites in the comments.

Carnival of the Mobilists

Writers on mobile and wireless take turns hosting Carnival of the Mobilists. This week’s (#189) is on MSearchGroove, and is heavy on market trends rather than usage scenarios. I did enjoy the host’s new podcast for the inside scoop on SpinVox. SpinVox promises to automate transcription of voice mail messages to readable text. This is understandably attractive to mobile users and venture capitalists alike. However, human transcription is still a big part of the system. If that problem remains, SpinVox is left with cheap data entry based in developing nations, an operation that doesn’t scale, and questions about financial management.

The Weekly Sift (Politics)

(OK, I know the Sift doesn’t travel or rotate authorship. But it’s still an excellent blog roundup. So I’m sneaking it in under the Carnival tent.)

I used to read a lot of US political blogs. Now I rely on The Weekly Sift. Doug Muder chooses his sources for their insight, and adds much of his own as well. Doug is a skillful explainer – he started out as a mathematician before writing computer guides, and now blogs on politics and religion. Each Sift includes two or three in-depth stories plus a collection of short notes. I’ve known Doug for years, and his calm, humane, and sometimes bemused tone shines through his clear prose.

In the Short Notes from today’s Sift:

You’d expect the people who study visualization methods to have a really kick-ass way to visualize their subject matter. They do. Move your mouse around and watch for the pop-ups.

Amidst the forests of cone trees and decision trees I encountered the hype curve.

Gartner hype cycle

Incidentally, I’ve seen that curve recently in CGAP’s article on the hype cycle in mobile banking, and I keep hearing that microfinance in general is moving through its Trough of Disillusionment phase.

Encephalon (Brain and Mind)

For neuroscience and psychology, Encephalon is your source. Edition #74 is hosted at Neuronarrative and is enlivened by Python (Monty) humor. The topics are anything but lightweight, however! Free will, emotion, and intention… criminal behavior… brain fitness software… schizophrenia…

…and a spirited defense of flowcharts!

August 31, 2009 at 6:38 pm Leave a comment

Tear down that (mobile garden) wall

Hear that rumble? It’s Wednesday’s big mobile announcement. Handset giant Nokia enters m-banking.

Nokia Money has been designed to be as simple and convenient as making a voice call or sending an SMS. It will enable consumers to send money to another person just by using the person’s mobile phone number, as well as to pay merchants for goods and services, pay their utility bills, or recharge their prepaid SIM cards (SIM top-up). The services can be accessed 24 hours a day from anywhere, meaning savings in travel costs and time. Nokia is building a wide network of Nokia Money agents, where consumers can deposit money in or withdraw cash from their accounts.

The service will be first demoed at Nokia World on the 2nd and 3rd of September 2009 in Stuttgart, Germany. It’s planned to be rolled out to selected markets beginning in early 2010. But given more than 4 billion mobile phone users and only 1.6 billion bank accounts, Nokia clearly sees enormous opportunity.

As CGAP notes, Nokia had already begun moving into services in developing countries.

This isn’t Nokia’s first move into providing content to a low-income clientele using the company’s handsets. In April, Nokia announced it completed trials of its Life Tools service. It’s icon-based, which Nokia says helps reduce language and literacy barriers. Its services are geared to farmers (customizable commodity prices, weather, seed and fertilizer availability) and students (English lessons, exam prep). It works on a new generation of handsets which Nokia has targeted at value-conscious customers who want browsing on the cheap. So far, that’s two Nokia phones running around USD 100, so there’s still a lot of distance to cover in cost and range of devices. But the idea behind Life Tools is exciting: browsing at a price affordable not to the economic elite, but hundreds of millions of more ordinary consumers.

Earlier this year Nokia invested $70 million USD in mobile payment company Obopay, which is providing the payment platform for Nokia Money. But Nokia intends the service to be open and interoperable with other payment services as well.

Ken Banks of kiwanja.net notes that this challenges the exclusivity many African m-banking operators enjoy, but may lock customers into a handset rather than a carrier.

This would be a direct challenge to many existing models which require users to switch networks, or to be on the same network as the mobile service they’re looking to use. In addition, it looks like Nokia Money users can sign-up without needing to swap out their SIM cards, making up-take of the service considerably more efficient logistically. If this thing were to grow, it could grow fast.

…As if (very) successfully designing and building low-cost handsets for emerging markets wasn’t enough, Nokia continue to increase their offering of emerging market-specific services through their low-cost phones. Last year it was agriculture and education. Today it’s financial services.

I’ve never been one for predictions, but this one has certainly come true. Again, writing last November:

“…So, what next? Nokia develop a mobile payments platform and embed the client into all of their emerging market handsets? Imagine, a single company controlling the entire mobile technology value chain would make interesting viewing. It could well be the answer to the age old fragmentation problems suffered by the ‘social mobile’ and ICT4D space, but would this give the Finnish giant Google-esque powers?”

And then there’s the cost of the voice calls or SMS messages to consider. African mobile analyst Steve Song has been fierce on this issue. Even in developed countries SMS charges are large compared to the incremental cost of providing them. But in Africa, SMS charges comprise a startling percentage of income. Poor Africans spend over 50 percent of their disposable income on communications. Why? Increasingly, you need a phone even to get a ditch-digging job.

Steve takes a critical look at Nathan Eagle’s txteagle micro-work service, in which small tasks are distributed via SMS and completed at piecework rates.

In [Nathan’s] talk he points out that the Kenyan incumbent, Safaricom, will earn a billion USD in revenue this year. Minutes later he highlights the fact that his initial attempts to establish SMS-based real time blood-bank monitoring in Mombasa failed because nurses were unwilling to pay the cost of an SMS to update the database. He says:

“… if you’re working at a local hospital, a text message is a substantial fraction of your day’s wage …”

Now put those two facts together. A billion dollars in revenue and an SMS is a substantial fraction of your day’s wage [emphasis added]. Hmmm.

Nathan had to resort to paying nurses the equivalent of three SMSes for every day they updated the blood-bank. I love the ingenious way he found to make the system work but it does highlight what a throttle to innovation the high cost of communication is.

Eventually, it may be data services to the rescue as Africa is better connected via undersea cables to broadband networks. Nokia is integrating Skype into its devices. Steve Song sorts through the issues in a series tagged WGSDIA, “What Google Should Do in Africa“; recommendations include offering web-based versions of Google’s SMS services, and lobbying for better SMS rates.

In the meantime, phone users are doing their own end run on the cost of voice calls and SMS messages. Many use:

…the practice of “beeping” or “missed calling” between mobile phone users, or calling a number and hanging up before the mobile’s owner can pick up the call. Most beeps are requests to call back immediately, but they can also send a pre-negotiated instrumental message such as “pick me up now” or a relational sign, such as “I’m thinking of you.” The practice itself is old, with roots in landline behaviors, but it has grown tremendously, particularly in the developing world.

This comes from Jonathan Donner’s delightful research article on the rules of beeping: who beeps whom, who’s expected to pay for the call back, and how not to beep too much.

August 27, 2009 at 12:58 am Leave a comment

Crowdsourced election protection

In following innovative uses of SMS (text) messaging, I’ve been delving into the work of Ushahidi. The name means “testimony” in Swahili, and the platform crowdsources crisis information such as political upheavals or natural disasters. Anyone can submit updates through text messaging using a mobile phone, email or web form.

Ushahidi was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008.

In breaking news, Alive in Afghanistan is using the Ushahidi mapping system to report election irregularities.

Map of citizen-reported Afghan election irregularities

Text messages are collected via Frontline SMS, another great system which uses free open source software to turn a laptop + mobile phone into a central communications hub. Easy to set up, portable, and resilient: just what is needed in chaotic circumstances.

The next issue is what to do with the flood of information that comes in beyond a heat map of incidence reporting. What do you pull out of the SMS or Twitter stream? What’s credible? What’s important? In particular, how do you deal with the first three hours of a crisis? Ushahidi founder and TED fellow Erik Hersman is tackling that problem now.

Graph: Quantity vs. quality of hour by hour crisis reporting data

A small team at Swift River is looking to the crowd to filter data as well as generate it.

Swift … is an initiative that seeks to do two very important things, both of which are crucial for not just Ushahidi, but for many emergency response activities in the future. First, it gathers as many possible streams of data about a particular crisis event as possible. Second, using a two-part filter, that stream of data is filtered through both machine based algorithms and humans to better understand the veracity and level of importance of any piece of information. –Erik

See it in action at Vote Report India.

August 20, 2009 at 11:32 am 1 comment

Field research for SMS queries in Uganda

The Grameen Foundation, Google, and telecom provider MTN Uganda have launched a suite of mobile phone applications. These are the first products of nonprofit Grameen’s Application Laboratory (AppLab) effort. The SMS query-and-answer services are designed to work with basic mobile phones, and provide real-time health and agricultural information as well as a virtual marketplace.

Users can access the services at the time of their choosing and search relevant content on-demand, operating almost like the Internet.  The services include: Farmer’s Friend, a searchable database with both agricultural advice and targeted weather forecasts; Health Tips, which provides sexual and reproductive health information, paired with Clinic Finder, which helps locate nearby health clinics and their services; and Google Trader matches buyers and sellers of agricultural produce and commodities as well as other products.

Local organizations provide the knowledge base for each information service. Users enter a freeform text query, and Google’s algorithms identify keywords, search the appropriate knowledge base, and return the most relevant answer.

Agriculture query results

It’s worth noting what a huge opportunity there is for such services. Overall, 80% of new mobile users are coming from developing countries (CGAP). Google further points out that Africa has the world’s highest mobile growth rate, and mobile phone penetration is six times Internet penetration. One-third of the African population owns a mobile phone and many more have access to one. In Uganda agriculture employs over 80% of the workforce and only 13% of Ugandans live in urban areas, so using mobile phones to get information to rural populations meets a great need.

And that’s why it’s worth spending money and time to get the service right. How do you anticipate what questions people will ask, and what answers will be most useful? Enter the user experience team, taking a classic Wizard of Oz technique to Ugandan villages.

First, we trained a multilingual team to act as user researchers in 17 carefully selected locations across the country. In each place, they introduced themselves to a cross section of people they met and invited them to participate in a free study that would help create useful services for Ugandans. If the person agreed, the researcher handed them a mobile phone and encouraged them to write a text message containing a question they wanted to know the answer to. (If people had their own phone, we reimbursed them with phone credit.) The text message was then routed to a control room we’d set up in Kampala where a human expert read the text message, typed a response, and sent it back via SMS to the person who asked the question. In the meantime, the interviewer observed and recorded the participant’s user experience. This allowed us to record rich qualitative data from hundreds of interviews in just a few days, and to collect quantitative data from hundreds of search queries.

The team captured 280 queries in 4 days. Watch this great video; it really gives you a feel for the process. The sessions at the markets start at around 2:20. At 6:22 are visits to phone operators in rural villages, where phones are shared. (Get the feeling that the answer to the malaria query didn’t quite hit the mark?)

I’ll be interested in the longer term reports of social impact, to be conducted with Innovations for Poverty Action, plus Google.org support.

August 4, 2009 at 11:40 pm Leave a comment

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