Smartphone, a tool to fight poverty

Mobile telecommunication is an extraordinary tool to fight poverty. I would encourage you to watch is conference from Iqbal Quadir about mobile in Bangladesh. As a kid in rural Bangladesh, Iqbal Quadir had to walk half a day to another village to get some medicines from a doctor– who was not there. Had he been able to call the doctor, it would have saved him a walk for nothing.

Iqbal Quadir brought the first commercial telecom services to poor areas of Bangladesh with GrameenPhone. His motto could be “connectivity is productivity”. Spend 10’ watching it, it will change dramatically the way you see mobile communication. You’ll start to think that ARPU, OPEX, etc. are not the alpha and omega of Mobile.

Link to TED video

I was wondering what could be done further to fight poverty with a mobile phone. I could give away one of my old phone as recommended in Developing Telecoms Watch.

But I was thinking, OK everyone is enthusiastic about mobile applications these days, but what can be done to fight poverty?

I’ve heard of some Nokia applications for the Indian market to give the real crop price to small producers so they aren’t cheated by intermediaries. One of the potential application could be an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) software. But setting up an IVR in a developing country with poor IT infrastructure would be a nightmare: you need a server, a T2 connectivity, power with not cuts, etc. An IVR is neither a very simple nor a robust solution. But still “connectivity is productivity” and access to the right information helps to fight poverty. SMS is the other bearer which is available everywhere a GSM network is live.

Thanks to Developing Telecom Watch I just bumped into kiwanja.net and its very interesting articles on mobile communications in the rural world, and then discovered Frontline SMS.

Frontline SMS is a very simple tool to manage communication within a community by sending /receiving SMS on a laptop. You connect a mobile phone via a USB cable to a laptop with the software and off you go! You need neither an internet connection, nor a T2, nor a server. It can be deployed anywhere in no time.

The beauty of it is, it simple and robust. But the targets of this software are NGOs and communities to conduct surveys, provide weather forecast, Human rights monitoring, etc. How can such a kind of software generate value for the users and revenue for the one running it as a service? The solution should be very a simple SMS software with some basic billing capabilities, or at least SMS counting running on a standard smartphone. The person running the service would be able to sell SMS based information on a regular basis or on demand. The user would then pay for a number of updates by SMS. Coupled with a microcredit service for the smartphone acquisition this software would enable people in developing countries to establish a trade. The potential of such technology seems enormous. Just have a look at the forecast of mobile users for India only on Ronnie05 blog : in 2010 there will be 500M mobile users in India only!

Such SMS based software would be a fine tool to start fighting poverty and the digital divide.

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