Andrew Hyde of TechStars retweeted a simple thought by Deb Louison Lavoy on why pay phones could not be used for micropayments. I thought I’d share this on my blog for your thoughts.
This reminds me of an equally interesting project called Question box that converts discarded phone booths in rural villages into a knowledge re-sources.
The idea was simple:
Users place a free call by pushing the green button. They connect to an operator sitting in front of an Internet-enabled computer. Users ask the operator questions. The operator goes online and finds their answers, translating them into the local language.
Question Box brings relevant information to people who cannot access the Internet directly. It overcomes barriers of illiteracy, language and limited penetration in rural India and Africa. Villagers have access to immediate, relevant information using the most simple mode of communication: voice.
While this is great, Question Box’s successful pilots coupled with Deb’s post brings up an interesting question. Can these same discarded phone booths also serve the purpose of collecting micro payments? – Phone booths already have the ability to collect money and transmit data over phone lines.
With little modification, phone booths could serve to kick start micro payments in rural Africa for those still be disconnected to the banking and communication grid.
These are my $0.02 ; your thoughts welcome ..
tag: afrigadget, appfrica, jobsworth
Today on June 22 from 11am – 1pm a good number of Africa minded individuals from different professional backgrounds met to offer their thoughts on technology and Africa at the beautiful Stanford Golf Course.
The event was sponsored by the SF Bay Area IPN and was titled, “Africa: The Next Asia?” It was kicked off by a panel discussion featuring Aleem Walji from Google‘s Africa Initiatives, Leila Chirayath – founder of Samasource, Arathi Ravichandran of Vipani , and Joseph Nganga, an expert in energy innovation and Board member of Carolina for Kibera . Topics explored were Africa’s steps in development; opportunities and obstacles to sustainable prosperity; to what extent should Africa mirror what we see in Asia?; and what are the challenges and/or potential benefits of following this road?
The Panel was kindly moderated by Ellen Leanse, who is a Bay Area Business Strategist, and Author. She works with early-stage and established companies to accelerate business growth through innovative business, marketing, and product strategies. Ellen also actively supports education and micro-finance organizations in East Africa, and she is currently writing a book based on recent experiences in Kenya.
Here were some excellent notes via twitter for the event from @tylerwillis captured via summize :
Realtime results for #ipn:africa
tylerwillis: #ipn:africa if 60% of your budget comes from the world, how much accountability do you reall have to voters? about 11 hours ago · Reply · View Tweet
tylerwillis: #ipn:africa making budget allocations publicly accessible took bribery/theft cost down from 70cents/$ to less than 10c/$ about 11 hours ago · Reply · View Tweet
tylerwillis: #ipn:africa accountability is easy, it’s dollars. If we promote sustainability we can let markets ensure accountability. about 11 hours ago · Reply · View Tweet
tylerwillis: #ipn:africa we need a simple, scalable solution for power supply to places completely off the grid. about 12 hours ago · Reply · View Tweet
tylerwillis: #ipn:africa energy opportunities are plentiful in africa, but attracting the amount of startup capital needed is hard. about 12 hours ago · Reply · View Tweet
Apple announces that the iPhone 3G will be available in 70 countries by the end of 2008 including 15 African Countries. The 3G version of this innovative phone, opens up the possibilities to numerous interesting applications. The iPhone 3G has a GPS antenae allowing location based reporting, promises to be a developer platform allowing widgets for blogging, and comes preinstalled with a host of useful applications.
While many have questioned whether Africa has the network capacity to support such a phone or if such a phone is even affordable, the general response has been positive. Jan Chipchase, a prominent user-research at Nokia compares the penetration of cellphone in Africa to “just-in-time” management – a theory employed successfully by Japanese auto maker Toyota to introduce efficiencies into the system. He gives examples of how cellphones have freed up labor, made business more efficient and improved the overall quality of life in rural africa.
The iPhone is a step in a positive direction. A prominent Africa- tech blogger Eric Hersman of WhiteAfrican, forecasts on his blog that “The data networks will become stronger to support it, and local developers will start building for apps”. Although most will not be able to afford the iPhone in Africa, many will – and these early adopters will drive the demand for better phones and applications for the African market. After all it took about 20 years for the first billion mobile phones to sell worldwide, the second billion sold in four years, and the third billion sold in two.
According to Om Malik and the WSJ:
Google is teaming up with Space Data Corp., a company that sends balloons carrying small (micro) base stations about 20 miles up in the air for providing connectivity to truckers and oil companies. The electronic payload is retrieved by farmers after it drifts back using a small parachute. The farmers do it because they get $100 per payload retrieved, WSJ says.Google believes balloons like these could radically change the economics of offering cellphone and Internet services in out-of-the-way areas, according to people familiar with its thinking.
If this is true, perhaps a similar low cost solution would do wonders to connect rural communities in the developing world. There is definitely a business case to bring down the cost of communication in Africa from fishermen in Tanzania to Farmers in India, to tele-medicine to education. Projects such as the much touted Africa ONE, aimed at connecting 32 countries, face too much bureaucracy to ever take off the ground and its time to rethink our approach.
Mobile communication is on the rise in much of Africa and South and Central Asia, but is generally restricted to the main grid and is prohibitively expensive. Investments by companies like Google and Space Data in localized communication technology, would greatly accelerate the integration of these communities to the Telecom grid.
As good friend worded it in a rare epiphany, “The last mile in telecommunications is just as important as the first”. Perhaps there are some solutions that already exist. Any ideas, people?
Interesting Fact: Africa is world’s fastest-growing cell phone market. From 1999 through 2004, the number of mobile subscribers in Africa jumped to 76.8 million, from 7.5 million, an average annual increase of 58 percent. By the end of the decade, that’s expected to double.