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  • SMS is getting outdated (a concept that I don’t agree with!).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?





Mobile Technology for Community Development!

13 04 2009
Mobile Phones

Mobile Phones

In the recent 16 Days of Activism campaign Against Gender Based Violence (GBV) Raising Voices and EASSI in partnership with WOUGNET ran a campaign to create awareness of GBV through the use of Bulk SMS.
Throughout the 16 days, we (WOUGNET technical support) used the Bulk SMS tool to send messages to over 500 People around the world. Most of the people who participated in this campaign were from within Uganda however others were from countries outside Uganda.
This SMS tool is a Mobile Technology. Apparently many people in Uganda and around the world own cell (mobile) phones. In Uganda the distribution of telephone services is a phone for every 4 people. That implies that approximately 8 Million Ugandans owns mobile phones today.
This has been as a result of mobile phone prices becoming very cheap and also more service providers being licensed in the country. The tariffs (call rates) are also becoming affordable with offers to make cheap calls across the different networks.
In Uganda today people are using their phones for different purposes. And some of these purposes are not limited to special phones with a number of functionalities. For example last year I visited a local organization Kubere Information Center in Apac district (Northern Uganda) and here rural women farmers use their mobile phones to get updates on Market prices! Today I can get news headlines, forex rates and soccer updates on my cell from my service provider. Many people use their mobile phones to communicate and keep in touch with their friends and family most of these are youth. More advance users of mobile phones are demanding for more sophisticated mobile phones. To get one with all the functionality you need you will have to pay a good price for it as the prices vary from one distributer to another. Uganda Telecom one of the Telecom Service Providers has introduced 3G technology. This service provides a fast internet connection for mobile phones that are compatible with the technology. Other service providers are still using GPRS and EDGE technologies to provide mobile internet services. MTN (another Telecom Service Provider) had introduced mobile money. To use the service one has to subscribe on the MTN network and then register with mobile money dealers and then they can use their mobile phones to send and receive money.

Text To Change a Dutch organisation working here in Uganda is using mobile technology (SMS) to improve health and education facilities/ services through quizzes and SMS campaigns.
However all mobile phones support SMS. This is a basic function. And one of the most widely used technologies around the world.

Mobile technologies have been known to be “boring”, but with the new innovations they happen to be more cost effective and easy to use as compared to the web. Most of the web applications have been made available for mobile! Websites, social networking site like facebook, myspace etc.

Recently I was discussing with a friend about the innovative use of SMS and mobile technology and she told me that in Serbia people use their mobile phones to pay for parking space on the streets!