Saturday, September 26, 2009

PL 64/09: Phones for development

Filed under: education, library 2.0 — plinius @ 9:21 am

farajaPeople in villages need trade more than aid.

Peasants without information about the market, are squeezed by middle-men.  Small entrepreneurs need capital in order to get started. Secure and low-cost money transfers allow urban workers to send funds to their rural families without several days of travel. Cheap mobile phones in the South provide answers to these, and many other, questions.

The growth of mobile networks and ownership of phones since 2000 has been amazing. Today, about 3.5 billion people have mobile phones. The latest issue of The Economist has an excellent special report on telecoms in emerging markets. Instead of reading, you may also listen to a brief lecture – with animated graphics – covering the highlights. There is lot of local detail, from the phone ladies of Bangladesh to phone-based micro-banking in Kenya.

The phone ladies got loans from Grameen bank to buy their phones. They could normally repay their loans with rental fees in less than year – and the phones gave them a stable source of income for a much longer period.

A World Bank study shows that local access to information and capital has a clear positive impact on GDP. When Kay Raseroka from Botswana was president of IFLA (2003-2005), she wanted libraries in the South to play the same role as rural communication hubs.

This idea is even more valid now – and should be including in the planning for the GLOSSA project – Global statistics for advocacy.


  • Mobile broadband …  will be the dominant form of broadband, says Informa’s Mr Jotischky.
  • With the falling price and size of laptops and the advancing potential of mobile phones, the two seem to be converging in a new range of devices that combine the power and versatility of a computer with the portability of  a  phone. Already, netbooks can cost as little as $200
  • Mobile phones,  it  seems,  are  the  advance guard  for  mobile broadband networks that will extend  internet access to the whole of mankind.
  • Mobile phones are now seen as a vital  tool of development, whereas Mr  Negroponte’s  laptop project  [OLPC] has  failed  to  meet  its  ambitious goals.
  • But although his engineers have so far only managed to get the cost of their elegant laptop  down to about $150,  they have shown what is possible with a lowcost design, and helped create today’s vibrant netbook market.
  • Technological progress in devices and networks seems to have rendered the debate moot: the important thing is that internet access will be on its way to becoming as widespread as mobile phones.
  • Obstacles remain even to universal mobile access, and beyond that to universal internet access.
  • One problem is a lack of backbone links, particularly to Africa. But a series of new cables is in the works to improve Africa’s connectivity with the rest of the world, increasing capacity and reducing the cost of internet access. The †first of these, the SEACOM cable, eastern Africa’s first modern submarine cable, was completed in July.
  • As international links improve and network equipment becomes cheaper and more eff…ective, it will not be diˆcult to provide a low cost mobile broadband service.
  • The main challenge will be to reduce the price of access devices. ŒWe need to come up with a mobiledata device  that  costs  $60-80 maximum,
  • Netbooks are very good, but we need an emergingmarket netbook that  costs  onethird of  the  price.  With phones, he observes, Œwe got real penetration when we got  below  $35.  Netbooks must be below $100 in price to get real traction.
  • The internet equivalent of the village phone model could provide a stepping stone to wider internet access in the poorest  areas,  just  as  village phones did for telephony.
  • The Grameen Foundation has already experimented by giving netbooks to a few village phone operators in Uganda so that they can sell internet access as well as telephony.,
  • Access to the internet can provide an even bigger boost to economic growth than access to mobile phones.
  • To make the most of the internet, users have to have a certain level of education and literacy.
  • It is now clear that the long process of connecting everyone on Earth to a global telecommunications network,  which  began with the invention of the telegraph in 1791, is on the verge of being completed.



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