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SXSW: How Mobile Devices Are Changing Africa

Unknown Lamer posted about a year and a half ago | from the everyone-loves-sms dept.

Cellphones 65

Nerval's Lobster writes "Mobile phones are kicking off a revolution in Africa, with everyone from farmers to villagers relying on apps to make electronic payments, check on expiration dates for medicine, and predict future storms or the best prices for produce. In a SXSW session titled 'The $100bn Mobile Bullet Train Called Africa' (which would also be a pretty good name for one of the indie films playing at this massive convention), Tech4Africa founder Gareth Knight explained the contours of this revolution. According to Shapshak, more kids in Africa have access to the Internet than consistent electricity. Nobody owns a PC or can access a fixed-line telephone, so mobile phones are a conduit for everything from email to news to making payments via SMS. ... Many of the mobile devices used in Africa aren't cutting-edge, and SMS-based platforms are a necessity when it comes to sharing information. 'SMS is so fantastic because it gets to every device everywhere,' Shapshak said. ... Here's how a typical SMS platform might work: someone purchasing a box of malaria medicine could send the barcode information to a text number, which would send back an SMS message identifying the drug as real or counterfeit. Famers and other food-producers can receive SMS messages about the best ways to handle pests, for example, or take care of their cows."

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Wireless Africa (4, Interesting)

riverat1 (1048260) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132325)

Africa may bypass building up the kind of infrastructure we have in the western world and go straight to a wireless world with local solar power to charge their devices.

Re:Wireless Africa (5, Interesting)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132405)

Maybe. But there has to be a Western World for this type of technological "piggybacking" to occur. But maybe not, too. According to (some) conventional wisdom, the present Corporate policy of shifting manufacturing bases to the least expensive labor market means Foxconn is only awaiting a bit of political stability in Mama Africa.

Re:Wireless Africa (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132489)

Absolutely. And with 3D printing, Africa can bypass all the gloopy old stuff like "Factories" and "clean rooms" and a "chemical industrial base". They'll just 3D print directly fully functional electronics, with the firmware already loaded up, from thin air. Because, technology.

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132581)

How in the fuck is that modded insightful?

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132635)

you really think that will not be possible eventually?

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132743)

You must be blissfully unaware of just how complex the world you live in is, especially the manufacturing processes that allow the toys you take for granted. You must also have a distinct lack of technical knowledge and experience to think that it will be possible to replace all that with a magical 3D printer. Seriously, do you not understand how things are made?

Do you think all those billion dollar investments semiconductor fabs make are for laughs? All those silly engineers are just too stupid to realize that you can get clean room atomic precision ... in your living room? From a glue gun on a stepper motor?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semiconductor_device_fabrication [wikipedia.org]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semiconductor_fabrication_plant [wikipedia.org]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8kxymmjdoM [youtube.com]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrsPzbUJwl8 [youtube.com]

But tell us, professor, how do you plan on "3D printing" even something as "simple" as a Commodore 64? You guys are delusional. I'll bet you're a software person, who thinks hardware is as simple as "import warp drive" and it's done.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvrjIJw3OSU [youtube.com]

Just tell me how you plan to have a machine at home print out even something as crude as the first transistor? Would the printer have cartridges with every chemical element in it? How would that work? Please, I'm curious about the thought processes involved to believe what you believe.

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132913)

well the op won his troll

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43134285)

Yes, reality == troll on Slashdot. Never be skeptical about space colonization or 3D replicators, because it's like saying there is no god.

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43133041)

How would that work? Please, I'm curious about the thought processes involved to believe what you believe.

You keep Obama in president, he gave us a phone! [youtube.com]

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43135031)

Here's the video I wanted to include as well but forgot the URL.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=NGFhc8R_uO4 [youtube.com]

If you can watch the whole thing, understand it even at the basic level, and you still think we'll 3D print chips at home, I can't help you.

Re:Wireless Africa (5, Interesting)

demonlapin (527802) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132517)

I went to Kenya and Tanzania last fall (if you get the chance to see the wildebeest migration, go; it's magnificent). Kenya is one of the richest countries in Africa and has some of the best infrastructure on the continent, but it's still got a very long way to go. The primary highway from Mombasa to Nairobi and thence on to Kampala, Uganda, is a two-lane strip of pavement that doesn't even have shoulders for some fairly long segments. The Kenyan freeway includes speed bumps at pedestrian crossings. (It seemed odd at first, but since people are going to walk across the road anyway, it ended up being a fairly reasonable concession to reality.) The papers had quite a few stories about the headaches faced by large firms trying to operate in the country, some of which really are difficult to solve - for example, what to do when a piece of land planned for a factory becomes a squatters' camp? The government wants the factory to bring jobs, but it's not exactly excited about kicking a lot of voters out of their homes to do so.

I asked our guide/driver what he thought about the Chinese investment in east Africa; his take was that the roads were nice, but "wherever they go, the rhinos and elephants start disappearing". So there's that, too.

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132545)

The papers had quite a few stories about the headaches faced by large firms trying to operate in the country, some of which really are difficult to solve - for example, what to do when a piece of land planned for a factory becomes a squatters' camp?

Simple ask them to leave and offer them first dibs on jobs in the factory if they all do it peacefully.

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132649)

I asked our guide/driver what he thought about the Chinese investment in east Africa; his take was that the roads were nice, but "wherever they go, the rhinos and elephants start disappearing". So there's that, too.

The tragedy of the commons, also known as 'progress' and 'economic development'.

Re:Wireless Africa (4, Interesting)

demonlapin (527802) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132747)

No, the tragedy of Asians with lots of money and a penchant for rhino horn meeting up with Masai poachers. It's not the development that's killing the animals.

Re:Wireless Africa (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year and a half ago | (#43133355)

I fail to see where White racism has anything to do with this. This seems like a racist screed against Africans and Asians. Whites have a lot to answer for for Africa's maladies, why blame the victims?

Re:Wireless Africa (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about a year and a half ago | (#43133683)

Yeah, I'd never get this published in a respectable journal. Thankfully, this is /.

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43138687)

The biggest mistake made in Africa was that the whites didn't decimate the native population. American's seem to have gotten that one right at least...

Re:Wireless Africa (1)

istartedi (132515) | about a year and a half ago | (#43133285)

if you get the chance to see the wildebeest migration, go; it's magnificent

I can't afford to go to Africa. I have to settle for watching people stand in line at the Apple store.

GNU at Apple? (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year and a half ago | (#43134729)

You won't find a gnu migration at an Apple store or anywhere else that disrespects users' freedom to such an extent.

Re:Wireless Africa (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132735)

If the niggers were willing to work, they wouldn't be so poor in the first place.

Re:Wireless Africa (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132899)

Lack of a work ethic doesn't seem to be a big issue. Over there, they will let you starve to death. The only lazy people I saw were the Masai and other tribal types, who gathered around the entrance to every park trying to sell the same Chinese-made crap at ridiculous prices and begging when that didn't work, but presumably they're all out there doing that because it pays (and they had someone else in the family tending their herds of cattle and goats). For the rest of the people, that wasn't at all the case. Every morning the roads were crowded with kids going to school and parents going to work.

They did have a real problem with trash, though - litter all over the roadsides. Drove our guide nuts.

Re:Wireless Africa (1)

jonadab (583620) | about a year and a half ago | (#43150585)

> only awaiting a bit of political stability in Mama Africa

One wonders how long that wait may be. A large portion of Africa is effectively governed by what essentially amounts to Jacksonian law. (Err, if you Google that, be aware that I'm talking about Jacksonian law as it pertains to Jackson's Whole, not anything to do with Andrew Jackson.)

Re:Wireless Africa (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year and a half ago | (#43154633)

I haven't felt like this since they sent my 18 year old arse to the truck for the board stretcher...

Re:Wireless Africa (1)

alen (225700) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132507)

solar is nice, but you still need wires to transfer the power to devices and infrastructure. and there is still night time, clouds and rain to worry about. I believe parts of africa see rain for months at a time in the rainy season

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132901)

In much of Africa you can't install wires because they get stolen almost immediately. Its lucky that some of the wire thieves realize that their phones would stop working if they took the wires from the cell towers otherwise there would never be a cell tower working. So even if they wanted to install infrastructure, they couldn't really do it. I've had people from Africa come to the US and wonder how we can possibly have newpaper vending machines where you pay your money then take one (but have access to them all). They would tell me that in Africa, people would take them all then stand brazenly next to the vending machine and sell them. It really is a different world when money is so scarce. (I've only personally been to South Africa and Angola myself).

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132987)

I think they just place the solar cells nect o the devices that use the power, and bring their cell phones to shops that offer phone charging. No powerlines needed.

Re:Wireless Africa (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about a year and a half ago | (#43135579)

but you still need wires to transfer the power to devices

Wires or bicycles:

"A 60-watt solar panel charges a battery that is taken to the village on the back of a bicycle."

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21729075.500-send-a-text-message-to-charge-your-cellphone.html [newscientist.com]

Re:Wireless Africa (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132553)

Africa may bypass building up the kind of infrastructure we have in the western world and go straight to a wireless world with local solar power to charge their devices.

Unless Africa loves high latency and low bandwidth, I'd say that they are missing out...

The contemporary value of, say, the US' massive amounts of copper POTS lines would probably be greater if all that copper were already at the scrapyard(and the owner of all that copper were also at the scrapyard, rather than in a position to extract rents into the forseeable future...); but the laws of physics rather ruthlessly consign wireless to the position of 'convenient, for light duty; but inferior' compared to wired links of similar tech level.

Re:Wireless Africa (2)

Deekin_Scalesinger (755062) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132601)

I remember a History teacher once mentioning that if the US enjoyed the same amount of time in power as the Roman Empire, we would see the end of said power around the year 2600 (and yes, I am keenly aware of the double entendre there).

Anyone wanna lay a bet that we won't make it nearly that long? Africa has a lot going for it - were there to be a confederation formed there, it would be interesting to see the balance of power shift. They have a population, raw resources, and are increasingly tech savvy.

Re:Wireless Africa (3, Informative)

evilviper (135110) | about a year and a half ago | (#43133197)

I remember a History teacher once mentioning that if the US enjoyed the same amount of time in power as the Roman Empire, we would see the end of said power around the year 2600 [...] Anyone wanna lay a bet that we won't make it nearly that long?

Your comparison is quite pointless. First off, the Roman Empire was constantly shifting and changing. It wasn't a big country that sprung up and lasted intact for 1,000 years.

Another difference is that the Roman Empire grew out of military conquest of existing countries. And while the US has a sad history of extermination of natives, it's really not the same at all. They aren't going to rise up and take back their lands, in part because we did a very good job of exterminating them.

The US benefits tremendously from geographic isolation. If the US' power wanes, who is going to invade and start taking lands? Canada or Mexico? Those two big oceans prevent most conflicts that could lead to wars.

And the Roman Empire isn't the closest historical example we can follow. We have our older cousins, Western Europe, to observe, in real-time even. They're quite a bit older than us, and yet none of the major countries has ceased to exist. Certainly there's been political upheaval in England, but they still exist largely as did centuries before the US came to be.

Re:Wireless Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43136451)

The US benefits tremendously from geographic isolation. If the US' power wanes, who is going to invade and start taking lands? Canada or Mexico? Those two big oceans prevent most conflicts that could lead to wars.

The U.S. might fall apart from the inside, like the Roman empire also did. Sure, the romans were attacked from outside too - and couldn't do much about it as it was no longer a functioning empire. They lost ability to use soldiers from one end of the empire to protect the other end.

The same could happen to the U.S. Another 'civil war' is probably not so likely, but internal isolationism and 'hate for big government' could end up in a situation where each state is almost a separate entity. They might still be friends, but no longer allies - no common army for example.

At that point, the country has fallen apart already. A Mexican attack on Texas might or might not work, but the other states would not want to be bothered with it.

Re:Wireless Africa (1)

evilviper (135110) | about a year and a half ago | (#43133469)

Africa may bypass building up the kind of infrastructure we have in the western world and go straight to a wireless world with local solar power to charge their devices.

That's not a forward-looking statement at all. That was the reality a decade ago.

It's an interesting case-study in how poor economics for one technology makes a (bigger) market for a later technology, which is adopter faster than in areas where the previous technology existed. For a similar example, you can see VCDs in Asia while the earlier VHS dominated in the west.

Certainly, wireless has the potential to be a adequate alternative to the more expensive wired technologies. Both telephone calls and data/internet can be provided at quality and prices pretty competitive with land-lines. Solar also has the potential to provide a sufficient alternative to grid power.

And it's within the realm of possibility that Africa will largely bypass internal combustion engines and jump straight onto EVs while the legacy of gasoline distribution in the western world makes it less economical to build EV charging infrastructure. The same might be true for composting toilets versus sewer systems or septic tanks, and wells versus utility water. But there's no quick fixes for all infrastructure problems... For instance, I don't see much alternative on the horizon to good roads.

Welcome to the past (2)

aclarke (307017) | about a year and a half ago | (#43137363)

MAY bypass? This is the case already, and has been for quite some time. I just got back from a month in Zambia, and it's completely commonplace to see a mud hut with a thatched roof, with a solar panel on top or set up outside. People are often off-grid, but the mobile phone is almost ubquitous. It's quite common even to see a satellite dish for the flat-screen TV. I'm talking about people in the bush, not in towns and cities.

Now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132333)

...if they could only fix *everything* else over there.

Internet in Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132397)

Internet in Africa is booming, as showed in this reportage : Africa reportage [youtube.com]

Re:Internet in Africa (1)

gomiam (587421) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132497)

I actually preferred the traditional rickroll.

Re:Internet in Africa (1)

unixisc (2429386) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132865)

From all the Nigerian e-mails promising me millions if I help the local prince deposit money into my account, I believe it

Example? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132521)

That's really the best example they can give? No counterfeiter would ever think to fake barcodes.

Re:Example? (1)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132791)

a search on "counterfeiters change barcodes" might lead you to alter your statement

YMMV, of course

Re:Example? (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132801)

Unique barcodes. Either the counterfeiter will duplicate an existing one - identified as dupe - or uses an invalid one -identified as invalid.

I thought it'd be laptops without internet (2)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132569)

When I thought of the revolution in Africa, I always thought it'd be,"I figured they'd have laptops without internet, but with a decent hard drive full of educational materials. Also I figured they'd have solar installations just big enough to run their laptops. This way I thought African's could get a first world education through video, textbook, and interactive resources. I figured the Africans would occasionally travel to a library to download the next series of course work every so many months."

But what this summary is saying is that Africa actually has a wireless connection to the Internet! And instead of laptops, they have cheap phones. Interesting... I'd assume they generally don't have smart phones now because smart phones consume more power, and they're saying power is a limiting factor. I could see educational smart phone aps teaching people math. I could even theorize how you could educate someone via a dumb phone, but I would reason dumb phones will move over to smart phones eventually. I think it'd be better to start investing in making educational aps for smart phones, than trying to force textbooks into text messages a dumb phone can receive. Maybe if you wanted to tie twitter into SMS, someone could be a twitter teacher. Or maybe you could have a script that played information through SMS if someone requested it. Either way, it doesn't seem too alluring to look to the education revolution of Africa through dumb phones, but with smart phone aps, it does seem quite alluring.

I'm a computer programmer who's done some Android development. I'm a guy who supports that text books should be free, just to start the education revolution that the poor can't afford. I think even if you can't make money selling educational aps to poor people in Africa, there is societal benefit for doing so. Education helps a person in so many way it is immeasurable. The only people who don't want others educated are evil dictators since your neighbor being educated can help you out if he cures a disease, or at the very least works more efficiently to produce things cheaper. Africa has lots of corrupt governments, so education would help there. But mainly I just like seeing people empowered in general, so if you're not doing anything major right now(aka a real job), you could be writing educational aps for Africa as an act of charity. Down the road as smart phone prices decrease, it'd make an impact. Also first world countries wouldn't mind their children having more interactive educational "games".

So that is my thought process on the whole thing. People are all mad that the Android market is hard to make money on, but look at the untold charity it could unleash. Imagine if Africa had access to the Android market. Their kids could have all sorts of games to play first off. But the major thing would be that they could get educated too if some of us over here in the first world would make that possible. I've thought the education revolution would start with free text books on laptops, then down the line interactive course work could be designed. But the first line could be interactive coursework as Android aps! Man, it is a good time to be a programmer, we're in demand, even if no one wants to give us a job, we can strike out and help society out.

Re:I thought it'd be laptops without internet (2)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132729)

So I went ahead and looked on Android market. It seems like there are many free educational aps already. So there is no real need to code everything by scratch which is good.

I think the trick would be to compile an indexed syllabus of what aps to master in what order. Remember when you're not in a classroom setting, kids can advance at any rate! So don't put limitations on "this is for a first grader or x years old", simply place the aps in the order that they should be mastered, or groups of aps they can bounce around in.

A list of indexed syllabus aps would mean people wouldn't have to get impossibly lucky to find the right aps for themselves or their child. It is like a reviewer who lines up the best things for someone to use. All the teacher/student would have to do is find this Indexed syllabus ap, and if they follow it, they should gain a partial education. Over time, as people write better aps to fill in the gaps, the education could become better and better.

So what I think what the ap store could use now more than anything is an indexed syllabus(A review of best aps in order of building blocks to the next ap), and then constantly update this ap as more aps come in. It wouldn't be the hardest thing in the world to do, but you'd have to deal with malware coming from the Android market, and have a great patience to try out as many aps out there as you can.

I don't know if anyone has attempted this yet. I don't know if someone has chained quality educational aps together in the order that they will educate you. I think it could be possible to get an entirely ap based education in the future, but even in the short run, a partial ap based education could be helpful too.

Re:I thought it'd be laptops without internet (0)

cyborg_monkey (150790) | about a year and a half ago | (#43133339)

nice troll website! god spoke to you! cracks me up!

Re:I thought it'd be laptops without internet (1)

Echemus (49002) | about a year and a half ago | (#43134341)

I doubt Smartphones will make serious in-roads to the African market soon. Do not forget that most of the phones used in Africa are not new devices and have had several owners. Given most modern smartphones are rather fragile items and sensitive to moisture & dust, I doubt they will have that much longevity. (Think of how indestructible feature phones were a decade ago and mostly are today) Having a non-replaceable battery would rule out a lot of current smart phone devices too.

Also, the top "features" for a phone in Africa are Torch and Radio, neither of which are top on the list of smartphone features.

You are correct, power is a big problem with smartphones. "Power" comes from people who ride a bike (or walk) into a city and purchase a car battery that is charged. Or connect to the village's car battery connected to wind/solar electricity sources. The people peddling around with car batteries is also where top-up credit is purchased from.

Nokia's moniker for this market was "Internet for the Next Billion", trying to raise the level of device in use beyond basic GSM handsets. Nokia were well aware that the relationship with this market was one that was at arm's length. Perhaps a village could pool resources to purchase a phone (Nokia sell kits for longer range external antennas, solar/car battery charging points, etc) but that was about as direct a relationship Nokia had.

Re:I thought it'd be laptops without internet (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about a year and a half ago | (#43135515)

Also, the top "features" for a phone in Africa are Torch and Radio, neither of which are top on the list of smartphone features.

Not for US vendors. Other phone manufacturing nations are ready to step into the breach.

http://www.aliexpress.com/wholesale?shipCountry=us&shipCompanies=&SearchText=android+phones+light&exception=&CatId=5090301&pvId=217-350436&manual=y&jump=kwref&needQuery=y [aliexpress.com]

Re:I thought it'd be laptops without internet (1)

Sigg3.net (886486) | about a year and a half ago | (#43136535)

AFAIK the only smartphone people use in Africa, at least around SA, is blackberry.

Makes more sense to have buttons instead of touch, less power consumption and the free messaging system the blackberry provides.

Apart from that it's good old feature phones.

I'm a farmer - please spam me (1)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about a year and a half ago | (#43132595)

>> Farmers and other food-producers can receive SMS messages about the best ways to handle pests, for example, or take care of their cows

Aha...the future of Africa is Monsanto text-spam.

We need justice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132633)

So, if the Africans can afford mobile Internet, why the fuck is it so expensive in Europe and the U.S.?

Can we please enact vengeance on the companies responsible?

Re:We need justice (1)

Cederic (9623) | about a year and a half ago | (#43133347)

Look at it another way.

You're pissed off because checking Slashdot from your phone costs 40c.

A farmer in Africa spends a day's wages to find out why his cows are dying.

You pay more, but he gets to survive another year. Take your pick.

Re:We need justice (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about a year and a half ago | (#43135531)

In most of Africa, phone network costs are about 1/10th of US prices.

Re:We need justice (1)

itsthebin (725864) | about a year and a half ago | (#43136385)

I work in Madagascar

to connect my note 2 I purchased a Telma sim card - prepaid - I buy 250meg data plans , valid for 30 days for 6 USD.

Re:We need justice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43136495)

The article mentioned SMS being popular - because it works with all phones. Only some phones have 'Internet'. SMS is cheap in Europe too.

You could try the African model in the west: Set up one cell tower per village. Use radio links between, almost no costly connections to existing infrastructure - except when your customers make a call to a land line. You will then have the same problem as Africa - the system works only if people don't make more calls than Africans do.

As for prices - they may be more similiar than you think. Do not compare prices in terms of dollars, but prices in terms of cost of living. African telephony may seem cheap, but this is so because the telco is manned by cheap people who live on cheap food. It is not necessarily cheap for the customers, who also live on low pay. How many % is the "cheap phone service" out of their low wages? How many % is your expensive phone service out of your higher wages?

I call this IoSMS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43132975)

Internet over SMS

The counter-argument (2)

WML MUNSON (895262) | about a year and a half ago | (#43133147)

Meanwhile: http://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/kenyas-tech-industry-over-hyped-or-just-learning-to-walk/24767/ [howwemadeitinafrica.com]

Since the launch of celebrated mobile money transfer service M-Pesa five years ago, Kenya has been labelled the ‘Silicon Savannah’ and an ‘ICT hub’ with its supposed technology revolution that has overshadowed other African countries. Yet, outside the tech-focused business incubation centres and conferences, many struggle to ‘feel’ the revolution.

Other than grants and donor funding, very little actual investment has been pumped into local technology startups. Investors say they can’t find investment-ready businesses in Silicon Savannah’s river of startups.

At last month’s Mobile Web East Africa conference, some participants tore into the hype, with some suggesting that Kenya’s ICT sector had no business going by the “cute” title, Silicon Savannah.

The influx of grant money and competitions where entrepreneurs are awarded cash prizes, have also been called a curse because it encourages developers to build apps with a social impact, but with little commercial potential.

Re:The counter-argument (1)

newnewshop (2750961) | about a year and a half ago | (#43145885)

The application of technology in agriculture would have a great impact in the agricultural production.The phone is just one aspect of the technology, but also can play a decisive role!The impact of mobile phones in Africa should also a lot of focus in rural areas!

They're gonna love QWERTY! (2)

baabuzz (2708563) | about a year and a half ago | (#43133943)

Given that the majority of African mobile users have been using an Alphabetical keyboard (T9), they're gonna love their first confrontation of QWERTY! On a touchscreen no less. The keys will be smaller than their fingertips. The reassuring tactile buttons will be gone. And the intuitive letter order will be messed up. I wish them more than luck. :-)

Re:They're gonna love QWERTY! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43135975)

They'll still be able to use a T9 keyboard if they want, or if their carriers make it the default option. Just search for T9 on the google Market, and you'll find many free keyboards that are rated five stars.

Barcode a reliable method of detecting counterfeit (1)

tconnors (91126) | about a year and a half ago | (#43135651)

Here's how a typical SMS platform might work: someone purchasing a box of malaria medicine could send the barcode information to a text number, which would send back an SMS message identifying the drug as real or counterfeit.

Ah, it looks like they're hoping to implement RFC3514, the evil bit. If the barcode includes the evil bit, then it must be counterfeit.

Living among the Maasai (1)

Port-0 (301613) | about a year and a half ago | (#43135841)

I'm living at the moment in the rift valley about 40-50 miles west of Nairobi in the middle of a Maasai community. A surprisingly remote location being so close to the capital of Kenya. The only internet available is via the mobile network. Out in this area, there is no such things as a land line, fiber, etc. Mobile is the only option.

One anecdote about how mobile has changed things here. Last year there was a land dispute between two groups of Maasai near us that was pretty serious, 100+ Maasai on each side were armed with clubs, swords, spears, bow and arrow, ready to do ancient style combat with each other. I watched Braveheart, but it is pretty wild to see people gearing up for combat of that sort in real life. At any rate on their belt with their swords and clubs, they also carry a leather case with their Nokia phone. In this particular case they were used to text taunting messages back and forth between the sides. Normally, they would have to be within arrow shot to get a good taunt in. Now they can text a zinger in from the safety of the lee side of a large rock. For those wondering how it turned out. They had advanced within 100-200m of each other before one side decided it wasn't worth it, turned and ran.

I don't have stats, this is an offhand assessment, but I would say that about 60% of the Maasai in this area have a mobile phone. But this comes with some caveats:
    - It is only in the last 15-20 years that people started regularly going to school in this area. So there is still maybe 85% illiteracy rate (off the cuff estimate). Which makes it difficult to SMS, except those who you know can read.
    - Also power is a big problem I would estimate that upwards of 95% of people don't have direct access to power. So their phones are not working possibly half of the time. We have a steady stream of people who come to our house to get their phones charged.
    - Most people here use a very basic Nokia phone which are great for voice calls and SMS, but aren't very smart.

Where the rich people live there is great 3G+ coverage and you will find lots of smart phones, etc. Out in rural areas the coverage is spotty data rates are low, service is a bit less accessible... Just like the US I suppose.

Africa is a huge continent with diverse culture and situations. There is a wide gap between rich and poor here. I think the mobile infrastructure is enabling, and more resilient than fixed infrastructure (in a place where it is common for people to dig up pipe or remove cabling from poles in order to sell the metal for a bit of cash). It is opening up the world in a way that was not previously possible. However, it is not magic, there are a lot of other things that need to be in place for the benefits to be fully realized. Good education, access to markets, a stable government being just a few.

Advice for farmers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43135959)

Do farmers really need SMS advice, telling them how to take care of their livestock?

Re:Advice for farmers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43136513)

Telephony is immensely useful for farmers. Or why was phones rolled out all over rural U.S. as soon as it was invented? Even though they had to make do with clumsy wires?

Farmers like to call faraway relatives too, you know. They like the ability to call the doctor with some questions instead of spending a few days travelling to meet in person. The ability to order equipment and meet just for the transaction - instead of first meeting to order stuff they don't have locally and then meet again to pick up.

Voice vs Reading and Riting (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about a year and a half ago | (#43135991)

Africa has a helluvalot of semi-blind and illiterates. The advantage of voice comms is that you need not be able to read and write to be able to use it. Someone else can also dial a number for you. So anyone (well, except the deaf) can use a voice phone.

Mobile Opportunities in Africa (on Slideshare) (1)

Rudy De Waele (2862801) | about a year and a half ago | (#43137037)

Africa is not a country! For a reality check on what's actually happening in the most mobile-connected African countries, please check out my slidedeck from recent research I did on Mobile Opportunities in Africa - Engaging the next Billion - http://www.m-trends.org/2013/02/mobile-opportunities-in-africa-engaging-the-next-billion.html [m-trends.org] The deck is an in-depth analysis of African mobile market penetration in each country. Included are some examples of innovative local entrepreneurs, creating new opportunities with mobile across the continent. A detailed explanation of the slides was recently published on the iHub blog here - http://www.ihub.co.ke/blog/2013/02/mobile-opportunities-in-africa-engaging-with-the-next-billion/ [ihub.co.ke]

Cellphones but no clothes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43138005)

I returned from a trip to northeast Uganda a month ago. I was camping on the edge of a village of 8,000 people, that have never seen an ice cube. These people (Karamojong) live in crushing poverty, and did not have phones at all. I was astonished to see the number of phones in towns by people that couldn't afford clothes (other than 30 year old Bart Simpson tshirts, send by Goodwill).

"Mobile Money" is the buzzword for their SMS-based financial transactions. Dozens of small shack kiosks sell airtime, and phone charging. Solar charging of cellphones works very well in equatorial Africa. There were lots of Nokia candybar phones, many Chinese ones I did not recognize, and not many smartphones.

I asked someone what happend to their money if their phone was lost or stolen, the reply was that it was all password-based. They just got a new sim (or phone), entered their password and their money (and for them, their online identity) was still there.
 
The security implications of a whole generation of otherwise tech-illiterate phone users with a password of 1234 is alarming.

Malaria Medicine (1)

Phucilage (83738) | about a year and a half ago | (#43138213)

Malaria medication (prevention) is available in most super markets in the US and the rest of the world. Quinine, it's found in "Tonic Water"! I believe the quinine content has gone down since it's original inception, I wonder if it's sold (tonic water) at the local groceries I see in documentaries that always carry Coke products. I also wonder if the quinine content has been jacked up because of the need or reduced to promote the sale of the drugs...

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