Mobile phone location data could help in fight against Malaria

Siemens SL55 mobile phone

Siemens SL55 mobile phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the world’s 6 billion phones it is estimated that 5 billion are in developing countries. From a Big Data perspective, this offers a fantastic opportunity, particularly on the African continent. Although global shipments of smartphones have recently overtaken those of feature phones, the majority of phones in the developing world are cheap, simple phones that are used for calls and text messaging. Cheap phones can be used to track people’s movements and mobile payments, such as the M-PESA system used in Kenya and Tanzania, can also be used to analyse employment trends and give governments an insight into poverty, transportation and economic activity. The use of the mobile phone in these 2 crucial areas is potentially very powerful.

Big data from cheap phones in Africa could really help in the fight against diseases like malaria. By analysing data from mobile phones, location based data could help map people’s movements and help understand the spread of diseases. Africa has been hampered by a lack of data-gathering infrastructure, so mobile phone data can open up up a realm of possibilities but there needs to be pressure on the operators to allow access.

Lake Victoria has long been known as a hotspot and source of malaria, but what hasn’t been known is detailed information about how and when people travel to and from the area. Standard efforts at tracking people have been sketchy at best as information at border controls is poor. The use of location based data to monitor the movement of people could help indicate high risk areas and high risk times to travel. In addition, text messaging could then be used to alert people of dangerous areas and to ensure people are advised to use a bed net. In Sierra Leone, the launch of a location-based SMS system will reach up to 36,000 people an hour, with warnings of impending fires, floods or outbreaks of disease. The system is called the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) and will allow the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, with support from the British and Icelandic Red Cross, to reach people in need in a matter of minutes.

Last year, Orange released mobile phone data from the Ivory Coast which gave information on five months worth of calls made by 5m people. The data will be presented at MIT under the name Data for Development, part of a larger conference on data-mining projects throuout the world. A part of the data will chart travel between a traditional North South ethnic divide and may help avoid conflict in the future. There is a huge amount of excitement about this upcoming release of data and all of the possibilities it may be bring in the Ivory Coast and beyond.

We need to protect consumer privacy but there also needs to be continued pressure on phone operators to release anonymous location based user data . Mobile data may be the future of epidemiology and it could be how malaria is eradicated.


Mobile as a tool for empowerment

Samsung M7500 Night Effect mobile phone

Samsung M7500 Night Effect mobile phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a week when Samsung released record quarterly sales data and continues to jostle for position with Apple at the top of the smartphone manufacturer tree, it is important to highlight how mobile technological developments help people in the developing world. Innovation in mobile, for many of us, means the latest smartphone but for people in the developing world a simple feature phone can be a game changer from an educational perspective as well as a tool for empowerment and economic progress.

Although a recent report from IDC  highlighted the fact that global smartphone shipments have overtaken those of feature phones for the first time, the feature phone remains the dominant device in the developing world. In Africa specifically, there are just 15 million feature phones for the continent’s 500 million phones. Feature phones still remain the lifeblood for many people in the developing world.

The Mobile and ICT Sector is bringing development in all sectors in Africa, whether that be agriculture, healthcare or education, and is also revolutionising the business world. recently quoted Felchesmi Mramba, manager of Tanzania’s electricity provider TANESCO, as saying that technology has simplified things from paying the bill to meter readings – which can all be handled via mobile phone and the internet.

“Even now as I am here in Germany, I can purchase electricity for my home. This is a real revolution on the technological side”

African developers have also made it through to the semi-finals of the annual Ericsson Application Awards. TeamKenya developed an application that enables electorates to find out about and interact with political aspirants in their area, and to learn about laws and keep track of electoral events. Team Nimdee (Ghana) developed an application that allows merchants in Africa to access bigger markets on the continent and global market, whilst enabling them to reach their customers on the same platform.


Despite these success stories, the mobile industry does however still face many challenges, with recent coverage from the Guardian highlighting the fact that Samsung had admitted that its phones may contain tin from an area mined by children in Indonesia. There are clearly issues over Samsung’s supply chain and it is important for the world’s best-selling smartphone manufacturer to investigate how are they are supporting an industry that depends on child labour. Issues also remain over access to phones and all the potential benefits they can bring. Much of this blog has focused on the likes of Kenya being a real trailblazer but there are of course countries, like Malawi, lagging behind in terms of access to mobiles. It is important to ensure that people aren’t left behind, and governments in the developing world should facilitate access as much as possible

Kenya pushes forward with “Silicon Savannah”

English: I&M Bank Tower in Nairobi, Kenya

English: I&M Bank Tower in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kenya has begun building the recently dubbed ‘Silicon Savannah’ development in Konza, about 60km south of Nairobi and the project is widely expected to be a game-changer for Kenya’s $36bn economy. The country that has focused on technology as a means of economic progress, and brought the continent breakthroughs such as M-PESA and Ushahidi, has now turned it’s attention to ensuring that it is one of the main centres of Africa’s technology sector. M-PESA is the country’s mobile phone banking system which empowers people by allowing the simple transfer of money through a mobile device and has helped the previously “unbanked”. Indeed, it estimated that the service transfers the equivalent of 27% of the country’s GDP. M-PESA has seen a massive uptake in Kenya and Tanzania and has recently launched in India targeting 220m people in Eastern parts of the country. Ushahidi is an open source, not for profit project that allows users to crowdsource information via multiple channels including mobile, the web, and twitter.

Construction on the 5,000 acre piece of land in Konza, has begun in an effort to turn Konza into the most modern city in Africa. The project has been split into 4 phases, with the initial phase planned for completion in 2017. Encouragingly, it has been reported that the development is not just about attracting technology firms to the site, but is also a way of circumventing the country’s corruption, which has been deeply embedded for decades. The site is also projected to create 200,000 jobs when completed in 2030, as well as schools and universities. Konza – economically and politically a “new city” in Africa – may well act as a blueprint for further developments on the continent.

The project is a natural progression for Kenya’s aspirations to be the technology hub in Africa, and organisations such as IBM, Google, Microsoft and Intel have their regional headquarters there. Concerns however have been raised about the fact that most of the companies being formed in Kenya are based on a single app or software programme, making them economically vulnerable. In addition, despite clear progress in the technology sector, the Kenyan government still has a long way to go in addressing the country’s 40% unemployment rate.

The mobile phone and its impact on Agriculture

Malawian farmer in her groundnut plot under co...

Malawian farmer in her groundnut plot under conservation agriculture (Photo credit: CIMMYT)

The mobile phone is in many ways more valuable in Africa than it is in developed countries, simply because of its power in transforming peoples’ everyday lives. Development in Africa has traditionally been hampered by a lack of infrastructure (basic roads, transport links etc), and ineffective communications. The humble mobile phone is a way of circumventing these barriers. It is proving hugely effective as a means of a mass-communication tool, and in no area is this more prevalent than in agriculture, traditionally one of the most important areas in African life.

Mobile phones are giving farmers access to vital information about the quality and availability of crops before they travel long distances to buy them, saving people time and money. Mobile SMS alerts can also warn farmers of outbreaks of animal diseases, floods and other natural disasters – allowing farmers extra time to prepare for the event. M-Farm is another SMS based system service that gives farmers access to market prices.

Kenya’s iCow has had a huge uptake, and allows farmers to register livestock through their mobile phone and receive information on livestock gestation periods and health advice.

Agriculture is vital to the continent’s future, but when you consider that 80% of arable land is not being used, there is clearly a long way to go. Mobile phones are a way in which farmers can improve their productivity, and protect their land and livestock. In addition, technology contributes around 7% to the continent’s GDP, which is above the Global Index, so there are plenty of opportunities for the Technology and Agricultural industries to work together in improving farmers’ lives.


Will basic smartphones open up the developing world?

Nokia 6020

Nokia 6020 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the latest smartphone becomes the de facto requirement for Mobile users in Europe and the US, it would be pretty easy to think the smartphone is the dominant phone throughout the world. Think again. While the UK and US struggle under mountains of debt and an uncertain economic future, parts of the developing world are making huge strides in connectivity and communication being driven by, you guessed it, the good old feature phone.

In India, mobile adoption is high in both towns and cities and offers a way of reaching parts of the country that are normally untouched. Indeed, Indians spend more time on their mobile device than on any other medium. Yes, this does mean opportunities for advertisers however examples of how mobile can advance peoples’ every days lives are plentiful. Recently, a funny telephone game has gone viral in Pakistan which allows illiterate and poorly-educated people to find out about jobs and telephone-based services. In Africa, Mobile devices are being used to warn people of floods, natural disasters and outbreaks of diseases that could affect both people and livestock. Kenya’s iCow offers farmers the opportunity to register their cow through a text and receive regular updates on gestation periods and when cows are most likely to mate. M-PESA, originally launched in Africa and newly launched in parts of India, gives the “unbanked” access to mobile banking services. This cheap, mass-communication device will continue to help people throughout the developing world.

It is the feature phone not the smartphone, that is driving this and global shipments of feature phones still far outstrip smartphones. The latest Android or Apple device is far too expensive for the majority of people in developing countries, and cheaper alternatives offer the basic services that people require. As mobile shipments continue to steer towards the developing world, we are likely to see companies turn their attention that way and come up with cheaper alternatives. Although there will always be an aspirational facet to owning a premium smartphone, and countries with burgeoning middle classes such as India and China will drive this, the large tech companies will need to produce cheaper alternatives to increase their uptake.

Sierra Leone launches SMS system to save lives

Flag-map of Sierra Leone

Flag-map of Sierra Leone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sierra Leone emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002 and has made substantial economic growth in recent years, but poverty and unemployment are still very prevalent. Mobile technology, and in particular SMS, represents an excellent opportunity to communicate effectively with people who have traditionally been hard to reach on areas such as health and flood prevention. Harnessing mobile technology in innovative ways such as this will help save lives throughout the developing world.

The launch of a location-based SMS system should reach up to 36,000 people an hour, with warnings of impending fires, floods or outbreaks of disease. The system is called the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) and will allow the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, with support from the British and Icelandic Red Cross to reach people in need in a matter of minutes. Sierra Leone is only the second country in the world to launch the TERA SMS System and was initially developed in response to the earthquake in Haiti. It is being delivered in partnership with the Sierra Leone’s largest mobile operator, Airtel, as well as two additional operators – Comium and SierraTel – to allow the system to reach 1.5m people.

A year of monthly campaigns have been planned including information ahead of World Malaria Day on April 25th and further campaigns covering everything from cholera, tuberculosis and child health information to flood and fire prevention advice.

The launch of the TERA system is now planned in 40 further countries over the next 5 years, reaching millions of people throughout the world. The collaboration between the mobile operator Airtel, TERA and various charities working in Sierra Leone is an example of how mobile services can really help save lives.

M-Pesa arrives in India

English: A poster advertising the introduction...

English: A poster advertising the introduction of the mobile payment service M-Pesa in Tanzania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Vodacom M-Pesa mobile banking service has been a huge success in many African countries and has recently launched in parts of India. After the huge success the M-Pesa service has had in Africa, it is hoped that the service will have the same impact in India. We take traditional banking services for granted in the West, but huge numbers of people in developing countries simply don’t have access. M-Pesa offers a way of empowering people and allows for the free flow of money in countries like Kenya, Tanzania and now India. M-Pesa adopts a simple, text-based approach to enable users to deposit and withdraw from specific M-Pesa outlets, carry out transfers, make payments at retail outlets and pay utility bills.

The M-Pesa service from Vodacom will target 700m people in India who currently don’t have access to banking services. It is being launched in partnership with ICICI Bank and will initially target 220m people in Eastern areas of India with the aim of reaching the 700m people in India with no access to banking services.

Whereas there is currently a ‘land grab’ in the UK for the potentially lucrative mobile payment market, with the likes of Google, PayPal, VISA, the newly launched WEVE and Retail outlets all jostling for position in what is likely to be a long and complicated process, more simple solutions in developing countries are likely to have more of an impact on peoples everyday lives. It may indeed be places like India and Africa that lead the way with mobile payment services, allowing for countries like the US and UK to learn from the process. Indeed, whereby mobile payments play such a crucial role in peoples lives, the issue of ‘trust’ around the security of the system is circumvented and progress is potentially quicker.

Marten Pieters, managing director and CEO of Vodafone India, stated

For millions of people in India, a mobile phone is a bank account, a front door to a micro-business or a lifeline to people in the remotest areas. Research shows that M-Pesa brings real benefits to users in their daily lives, saving three hours a week of their time and around $3 in money transfer costs – a significant amount to people in some areas.