SMS vs. Mobile Internet: Scaling the mobilephone

15 11 2010

Would you trade your cell phone’s  Short Message Service (SMS) functionality for the Mobile Internet (GPRS/EDGE/3G+) functionality?

Even though I prefer mobile internet to SMS, I am not sure whether I would trade my SMS functionality for the mobile internet functionality – even though I can still keep both!

Of course some people would frankly say “YES”, because of the well known SMS limitations:–

  • Each message is limited to 160 Character,
  • SMS is more expensive as opposed to data (if you think about it, literally),
  • SMS is getting outdated (a concept that I don’t agree with!).
  • Some people don’t know how the SMS functionality on their phones works

The other obvious reasons as to why one would choose mobile internet over SMS in a country like Uganda (and/ Africa) today:

  • Phone calls are becoming cheaper and cheaper with the current competition among telecoms
  • The growth of mobile internet in Africa and Uganda to be more specific

That being said, what are the advantaged of SMS over Mobile Internet?

As Mobile Internet continues to rollout in Uganda, SMS remains a useful extension of online services. SMS marketing and advertizing is becoming a major trend in Uganda because it is cheap when sent out in bulk. “Often I receive advertizing SMS messages from different short codes (not to mention my carrier) either advertising products, events or even services.”

Most importantly other people/organisations are using SMS more innovatively to disseminate relevant information to the wider communities. For example, over the past 2 years I have provided technical support on Women of Uganda Network’s SMS campaigns aimed at raising awareness of Violence Against Women. Text To change – “uses state of the art mobile phone technology to collect and disseminate health information”. The Kuyu Project is developing “StorySpaces”  – an application which aims at using the tools that the end users are most familiar with, which in this case is the mobile phone, and turning it into a tool for participating in global conversations. Its such innovations that

Every other year gives me assurance on the relevance of SMS as a tool for extending online services and breaking the barrier of the “digital divide”.

And there is no doubt SMS is technically cheaper than data in the long run because once an SMS is stored in your inbox, you can read the message as many times as you want with NO extra charges. But lets look at data (mobile internet for example) – even though the cost is shared between the sender and the receiver, that is, the sender pays for uploading the data and the receiver pays for downloading the data; the receiver will be charged every time he/she revisits the same data. This makes data quite expensive.

SMS cannot work as a substitute to the (mobile) internet in any case and often the cost of SMS to me can never go unrealized (because its post paid) as opposed to the postpaid mobile internet charges.

Question remains, how badly is the mobile internet revolution in Africa likely to affect the SMS based applications, usage and innovations?

DISCONNECTED: The Digital Divide in Apac District Exposed!

24 08 2010

When the local Television channels will not broadcast without a DSTV connection, no Broadband, and no radio – except for one Community Radio! What would do you do?

Exposing the Digital Divide - Local TV NOT working, No Broadband, Just one Community Radio and Mobile Phones!

This week I am in Apac District – Northern Uganda facilitating a Website training at Kubere Information Centre (KIC) a project of Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET).

Apac town is one of the disconnected towns in Uganda. People here; need DSTV (Dish Television) to watch local TV channels. There are no telephone lines – which means you cannot access broadband internet. They only have one community Radio (Radio Apac – 92.9) – this means that the rest of the local and international radio stations wont broadcast here.

During the lunch break, we went to one of the local restaurants, the TV set is playing in DVD Move – we are watching a Nigerian movie (they are very famous here). Do you have a TV set at your house? – I asked one of my friends.  “No”, she replied. “I don’t need it, TV is only good when you can watch local TV channels. TV works very well in Lira (a neighboring district) but here, it won’t broadcast!”

Another friend I talked to said, “when I want to watch the news, I will just go to any of the local bars where they have DSTV.”

Life is very cheap and expensive here at the same time! Personally, I cannot imagine life without TV – I want to be able to watch the news on local Television when I can, I want to be able t listen to radio – both local and international (like BBC).

Information and communication technology continues to become popular in many corners of the world, even in the developing countries. Now, the Digital Divide is wider and more visible than ever!

This is not my first time in Apac but this time I have learned something new and rather very inconveniencing. But life here continues. Through out the day, I see people walking in and out of this information to read the daily newspaper, agriculture information material and to access the internet.

Its times like this that I get to appreciate the power of a mobile phone. My cellphone is working very well, and thats why I can use my Mobile Internet Dongle to access the internet via GPRS. The internet is pretty slow and unstable but at least thats the reason I am still connected  with my friends in Kampala and all around the world.

And Radio Apac ( the community radio) is really doing wonders here. Its the only working/ broadcasting FM radio station in this town. Everybody tunes into it. Last night, I tuned in to Radio Apac using my radio-enables mobile-phone. They use a mix of English and Luo (the native language here), playing some decent music and actually download a couple of podcast from Voice of America radio (VOA) and play them back for the listeners here in Apac!

Our stake holders should do better than this. The government should invest more funds in development of community radios, information centres (Telecentres) and infrastructure to facilitate communication not just in “big cities” – but also down to the grassroots.

What’s Next: The Digital Divide and the Youth

14 07 2010

Recently I contributed to “What’s Next” an e-book that features 25 Bib Ideas from Gen-Yers Under 25. My25 Big Ideas from Gen-Yers Under 25 article was mainly on the topic “The Digital Divide and the Youth”.

I could easily have my full article published on my personal blog but then, that means that you wont be able to read the other 24 Big Ideas. Thats why I am only providing two paragraphs such that you can follow the link to take a look at the full book.

Today, the world is referred to as a “Global Village”. The communities all around the world are transforming from being economic based to information based. This is because Information and Telecommunication Technologies have brought many exciting opportunities worth exploring in areas of social, political and economic development.

These ICT tools are becoming more essential in everyday life. This is because almost everyone in the needs to communicate or access information.

What we need to create is a platform where the youth can interact, discuss and share ideas about the grand challenges threatening the future.

 READ MORE Here – My article is on Slide 27 and 28

Comments and feed back would be nice.. 😉

Provide skills NOT just finished technologies.

3 03 2010

Most of the current problems in Africa are being solve by the few “experts”. On top of being expensive, it takes them a bit of time to do the necessary research and studies before they come to a conclusion. In my opinion, it would be a lot easy if the local people are given the skills to investigate solutions to the problems affecting them. This makes them feel more involved hence taking up the obligation to find solutions to their own problems and “make it happen”/ innovate. Its the same with the technologies. Once people get the technologies, they don’t feel the urge to work hard or improve on the current technologies or even look for cheaper solutions. But when the solution to a problems affecting a wider community comes as a result of skill the locals have earned. They get more involved in applying the required skills – more innovative too!! Give skills not technology.

Introducing “kasana”: the solar-based mobile phone to rural Uganda!

19 09 2009

Uganda Telecom Limited; one of the leading telecommunication and internet service providers in Uganda has

"kasana": The Solar powered phone on market in Uganda

"kasana": The Solar powered phone on market in Uganda. Uganda Telecom is the distributor.

introduced the new Solar-powered mobile phone. This Coral-200-Solar cell phone is manufactured by ZTE.

Uganda Telecom has officially nicknamed it “Kasana” (luganda word meaning sun) as it’s promotional/ brand name. The integrated solar charger charges the internal battery thus enabling this phone to power up with the use of solar energy.

This phone is anticipated to reduce on the digital divide gap in Uganda. The issue of limited/ lack of electricity lines and power irregularities in many rural areas of Uganda is one of the major reasons as to why many people can’t afford mobile phones today. Electricity bills remain very high for people to afford.

There is still need for many more such technologies (affordable and cheap to maintain) in Uganda to connect the remote communities and rural poor.

This phone not only lowers electricity consumption in poverty stricken countries like Uganda but also environment friendly.

Thank you Uganda Telecom for your continued efforts to connect my Uganda to the world!