Integrating Radio and Mobile Telephony

In the last week Nokia released the model 5030.  It is a model developed by the Nokia team based in Beijing and targeted explicitly at the mobile phone maket in the developing world. The device combines the well-established information and communication technology of radio with mobile telephony, a technology only recently available for wide use by people in developing countries.  The Nokia 5030 should begin shipping in the second quarter of 2009 with an estimated price of €40 before taxes and subsidies.

The Nokia 5030 is branded as bringing “radio to the people”.  The model exemplifies convergence by combining the functionalities of a mobile phone with those of a portable radio receiver.  It features an internal FM radio antenna and a powerful loudspeaker.

This mobile phone model can be used either as a radio with 24 hours of listening time between charges, or as a phone with 10 hours talk time.  It is available in graphite or red, and needs to be laid on its side in radio mode. The device also packs a flashlight, and speaking clock and an alarm.  More importantly it supports 75 languages, 500 person phone book (and space for up to 250 SMS messages) and the ability to phone share and track pre-pay usage.

The inclusion of an FM Radio or some other audio entertainment platform on a mobile devices certainly isn’t a new idea.  It has been available as an option on many devices for some time now, and these devices are been becoming incrasingly affordable to users in developing countries.  So what (if any) is the significance of the release of the Nokia 5030?

I think that the Nokia 5030 is a device showing signs of technology producers taking into account the user requirements of people in developing countries.  Still, manufacturers such as Nokia need to show much greater underastanding of the limitations to communication in the environment where these people (especially rural dwellers) live.  Although it is a start the Nokia 5030 is a long way away form constituting a comprehensive information and communication device for the developing word.  To say the least, such a device would enable people not only to receive wireless communication but also to transmit it.  In areas with scarce mobile phone cover transmission is the remaining sticking point.  If Nokia see the solution to communication in less developed countries through the integration of mobile and radio I am wondering if there might be a comprehensive solution they can offer.  For a demonstraton of the problem, we need to look no further than the clear dichotomy between the use of mobile telephony and the use of VHF for the delivery of medical services in rural areas.  That dichotomy can be readily traced in many of the “mobile health for development” initiatives.

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