Presentation by Dorothy Okello (WOUGNET) at the CTA ICT Observatory, Wageningen, Nov 2-4.more
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This Monday, 29 June 2009 turned out to be a rather momentous day for anyone interested in ICTs for development in general, and mobile content-driven information services, in particular. The Grameen Foundation announced the launch of its AppLab in Uganda, realised in collaboration with the Internet search and services giant Google and the African mobile operator giant MTN.
The press release gives details of the 5 SMS-based mobile applications launched by the project. The initiative is introduced in detail at the Official Google Africa blog by Rachel Payne, Country Manager, Uganda. The services fall with 3 silos:
Needless to say, I have been very excited by the news about these new services. So, I took a couple of days to process and digest it. The news has caused quite a storm in the ICT4D community. The White African comments on the participation in this intiative of prominent stakeholders:
Beyond the applications themselves, what I find most compelling is how the Grameen Foundation collected such a high-powered group of partners. The list reads like a who’s-who of innovative mobile services and development in Africa with Google, MTN Uganda, Technoserve, Kiwanja.net, and BRODSI to name a few. It’s a mixture of for-profit businesses, local NGOs and non-profit tech organizations.
I agree that this is a significant observation. It is well recognised that the implementation of successful mobile services involves the syndication of mobile operators (in this case MTN) and content providers (read Google). But the success of mobile services implemented in Africa, largely depends on their the existence of a support network on the ground. The role the project of the Grameen Foundation, its Technology Centre in Uganda and their network of Village Phone Operators (VPOs) increase the potential for adoption of the new services.
Ken Banks explains how the Google SMS Tips service was tried through an AppLab/MTN “call centre” where quieries from the users were received and short answers of maximum 160 characters were formulated. He brings up issues related to the process of development of IT services such as information behaviour* in developing countries, proximal literacy, HCI and prototyping. With regards to Google SMS Trader, which as a mobile commerce platform is of my primary interest to me, Ken Banks that a “whole suite of technologies on which to base solutions, including J2ME, WAP, high-end smart phones, 3G and MMS” were considered during the development process and SMS was eventually chosen. Still, I think that the involvement of Google in services such as Farmer’s Friend and Trader opens up another frontline in the rivalry between Android and Symbian. The services provided by Google SMS Tips in Uganda are consistent with those introduced by Nokia Tools in India. The respective uptake and popularity of these services might hold the key to the eventual spit of the premium mobile contant market in the developing world between Android and Symbian.
* Information behaviour meaning, “the totality of human behaviour in relation to sources and channels of information, including both active and passive information seeking and information use”, definition by Wilson 2000.
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Continuing the theme of alternative payment systems, and particularly the recent posts and discussions of the M-Pesa success story in Kenya, here is an interview panel on the topic, provided by TelecomTV’s programme Main Agenda.
The discussion took place during 16-19 Feb at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The panel features Mr. Gavin Krugel, Director Mobile Money, GSMA Association who articulates the major commitment of mobile network operator groups such as Orange, MTN and Vodafone behind financial service offerings. Network operators value the added value of such services alongside their standard offerings of SMS, voice and data.
He illustrates the scale of the opportunity offered to network operators in mobile money with the fact that 1 billion consumers in developing markets who do not have a bank account but do have a mobile phone. As a further illustration, a leading financial institution in India has 10 000 branches, while a leading network operator in India has 1 million distribution points. Through their network brands, innovation and secure technologies, mobile network operators are uniquely positioned to meet the opportunity and respond to the need for entry level financial services.
Mr. Vitalis Olunga, Head of International Services, Safaricom presents the opportunity of extending the M-Pesa mobile money concept of Safaricom, Kenya to include cross-border roaming services. He addresses the issue of regulation which came up in my posts from last week. Mr. Olunga tells how when M-Pesa was started in Kenya there was no regulation and the policy was developing post-factum. He sees a considerable challenge for the regulators in distinguishing between telecommunication and financial services. Additionally, mobile money increases the levels of competition in two highly regulated sectors in developing countries: the telecommunications and the financial sectors.
Mr. Hans Paulsen, CCO, Uganda Telecom shares his views regarding mobile financial services. He presents the opportnity present in Uganda to increase the current number of bank customers from 200 000 to 8 000 000 mobile phone users. The main application area Mr. Paulsen considers is that of remittences between urban and rural areas. With regards to regulation he stresses that success stories such as M-Pesa raise questions for telecom regulators and the banking sector regulators.
Mr. Patrick Kariningufu, Rwandatel emphasises that M-Pesa “was a great idea 4 years ago” and currently Rwandatel are looking for ways to enable people in the diaspora to transfer payments to African countries. Mr. Luckas Scoczkowski, CEO, Redknee presents their portfolio including re-sell airtime, emergency airtime, international remittances, and crossborder money transfers.
Recently I have come across some resources about the broad-based impact of access to ICTs on the welfare of people in Uganda. The materials below demonstrate not so much the use and development of mobile (or electronic) market services, but they demonstrate the general point about the impact of communication on businesses and individual livelihoods in Uganda. So, do have a look at the video! It shows the users of the telecentres in Nakaseke and Kasambya. Nakaseke is a larger and economically more active community with a busy marketplace, while Kasambya is a rural location. The video shows Margaret Nawoga, a farmer who grows plantain, coffee and vegetables and uses the telecentre for access to cultivation literature. The video also shows the proprietor of a small harware and bicycle repair business who uses the fax, photocopying and telephone facilities in the Nakaseke telecentre in order to arrange the purchase and delivery of spare bicycle parts. The video has been available since Feb 2007 so the information is hardly up-to-date. Do you have information about Uganda along similar lines? Please, do share it.
Demonstrating the same general point in a much more rigorous way is an article by Megumi Muto. It analyses the effect of the expansion of mobile phone networks in Uganda on market participation. The work uses survey data collected in 2003 and 2005 from 856 households in 94 communities. The study compares the effects of the increased access to mobile networks on the marketing of maize and of bananas. Megumi Muto establishes that the proportion of banana farmers who sell their produce, rather than consume it themselves, raised from 50% in 2003 to 69% in 2005. By contrast, the marketing of maize as opposed to its subsistance use did not change over the same period. The difference in the impact of mobile phone network expansion on the marketing of maize and banana is explained by the perishable nature of the banana products. As mobile phone coverage increased from 2003 to 2005, the sensitivity of the price of bananas to information was reduced, thereby reducing the price differential between farm-gate and market prices for bananas. Below is a map showing the progress of mobile phone coverage in Uganda between 2003 and 2005.