Updated: 5/16/2006; 4:30:43 PM.

Digital Development
Communications and info tech in developing countries, especially wireless broadband and high-value applications


daily link  Thursday, August 25, 2005


Cellphones Catapult Rural Africa to 21st Century:  20 years ago I travelled in Africa, telling people that wireless phones would be the IT that would matter there.  Nice to read the stories of how that works today.  "Bekowe Skhakhane does even the simplest tasks the hard way.  Fetching water from the river takes four hours a day. To cook, she gathers sticks and musters a fire. Light comes from candles.  But when Ms. Skhakhane wants to talk to her husband, who works in a steel factory 250 miles away in Johannesburg, she takes out her mobile phone. ..  "It is a necessity," said Ms. Skhakhane.. "Buying air time is part of my regular grocery list."  She spends the equivalent of $1.90 a month for five minutes of telephone time. ..

One in 11 Africans is now a mobile subscriber. .. cellphones are enabling millions of people to skip a technological generation and bound straight from letter-writing to instant messaging. .. One woman living on the Congo River, unable even to write her last name, tells customers to call her cellphone if they want to buy the fresh fish she sells. "She doesn't have electricity, she can't put the fish in the freezer," said Mr. Nkuli of Vodacom. "So she keeps them in the river," tethered live on a string, until a call comes in. Then she retrieves them and readies them for sale. ..

William Pedro, 51, who deals in farm and garden plants, said he tried for eight years to lure customers to his nursery in a ragtag township near George.. "now [customers] can phone me for orders and I can deliver them the same day." ..

Congo was in the midst of a civil war when Alieu Conteh, a telecommunications entrepreneur, began building a cellular network there in the 1990's.  No foreign manufacturer would ship a cellphone tower to the airport with rebels nearby, so Mr. Conteh hired local men to collect scrap and weld a tower together. Now Vodacom, which formed a joint venture with him in 2001, .. [hauls] each satellite dish into place with ropes. Base stations are powered by generators. .. Vodacom Congo has 1.1 million subscribers and is adding more than 1,000 daily.  ..

How does an African family in a hut lighted by candles charge a mobile phone? ..  the solution is often a car battery owned by someone who does not have a prayer of acquiring a car. Ntombenhle Nsele keeps one in her home a few miles down the road from Ms. Skhakhane's. She takes it by bus 20 miles to the nearest town to recharge it in a gas station.  For 80 cents each, Ms. Nsele, 25, lets neighbors charge their mobiles from the battery. She gets at least five customers a week.  "Oooh, a lot of people," she said, smiling. "Too many." "

  11:14:36 AM  permalink  

 
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Copyright 2006 © Ken Novak.
Last update: 5/16/2006; 4:30:43 PM.