Archives For Mobile

Apps4Africa Partner, Marieme Jamme

Sitting at the first Africa CEO Forum this week, in the heart of Geneva, I asked myself if this was the right time to open the debate on Africa’s private sector future. Was Geneva the right place? Critics will rightly argue that this sort of event should have been held in Africa.

Over two intensive days, top African chief executive officers shared with attendees from all over the Africa, Europe and Asia, some latest trends and best practices, discussed the future of the continent’s private sector, and received awards and accolades.

Speakers such as the outspoken Sudanese-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim tried to boost the narratives of Africa’s position compared to China and India but with little solutions to offer. When I asked him why the event was not held in Accra or Johannesburg, Ibrahim replied by stating that the reasons were more infrastructural and logistical than anything else.

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In Uganda, no one can hear you scream…..at your computer while waiting for a file to download or a video to buffer. Fortunately, there are number of reasons these frustrations may soon be a constraint of the past.

On Saturday I spent the afternoon with Thibaud Weick, CCO, and Mark Pritchard, Head of Sales & Marketing of Smile Communications (U) Ltd. Smile is one of few organizations bringing super-fast internet connectivity to Africa’s urban centers and rural areas. There are a number of things that Smile is doing very different to other mobile operators in the region that make them a company to watch in the coming years.

smile

Their LTE technology is new to the continent, having only been deployed in two other African countries to date. Thus, their launch in Uganda earlier this year puts the country on the bleeding edge of innovation when it comes consumer accessible mobile telecom solutions. Because LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology works over long distances, Smile is keen to service rural African markets as well, not just the densely populated urban markets.

The Smile Communication Uganda headquarters in the Bukoto area is an unassuming campus, located just around the corner from the local Nakumatt grocery store. It’s easy to forget you’re visiting a telecom company, that is, until you enter their data center.

smile

One of the advantages Smile has over their competitors is that their infrastructure is new, optimized for LTE from end-to-end. This is vastly different from the incumbents in the market who, more often than not, have to maintain legacy GSM equipment in addition to any new systems they wish to deploy. This makes deploying new technologies like LTE much more cumbersome and expensive for them, one of the many reasons innovation with local telecom infrastructure may appear to have stagnated.

At Smile, their data center is compact, small enough to fit in a mid-sized bedroom. If the team there ever wants to expand, and realistically only utilizes about a third of the room it’s contained in, so there is plenty of room for expansion.

network

The Smile team performed a test on my behalf downloading 35 gigs of the RACHEL courseware repository. Download speeds peaked at 17mbps by averaged at closer to 4mbps. The team assures me that this was during peak hours (2pm on a Saturday) and that during non-peak hours the speeds increase dramatically (for instance, at night).

The most exciting thing about Smile is their commitment to driving the local market forward instead of simply maintaining the standard.

jon gosier

My interview with Radio Netherlands about mobile apps, Africa, Abayima, and supporting the continent’s nascent innovators…

“A revolution is taking place in Africa,” according to the Fill the Gap organizers. And it’s “driven by mobile technology and rapidly growing access to the mobile which is the key to smart entrepreneurship and citizen participation.”

What does Gosier think about that? “I would reverse that statement to say, smart entrepreneurship is the key to mobile innovation,” he says. “The same goes for ‘citizen participation’ and ‘need’. The buzz in its current form is flawed because it assumes that innovation in itself provides solutions that can help people.”

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The edited footage of the talk this interview can be found here.

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Technologie: Les Africains Prennent Leur Destin En Main

Le buzz au cours de l’événement Fill the Gap a été “une révolution se déroule en Afrique, entraînée par la technologie mobile et par l’accès de plus en plus rapide au mobile qui constitue la clé de l’esprit d’entreprise et de la participation citoyenne.”

Selon Gosier, il est essentiel de commencer par un besoin et ensuite voir si et comment la technologie mobile peut faire partie de la solution. “Je voudrais revenir sur cette déclaration pour dire qu’un astucieux esprit d’entreprise est la clé de l’innovation mobile,” explique-t-il. “Il en est de même pour la “participation citoyenne” et le “besoin”. Le buzz dans sa forme actuelle est imparfait, car elle suppose que l’innovation par elle-même fournit des solutions qui peuvent aider les gens.”

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Article on the ambitions of 2010 Apps4Africa winner iCow.

New and fast-growing mobile social networks could challenge Facebook’s growth on the continent.

When young maize crops began failing in parts of Kenya earlier this month, the bad news—as well as information about where farmers could get seeds for other crops—spread on many Internet sites, including Facebook, which has 38 million users in Africa.

But it was a mobile platform called iCow—which allows 11,000 farmers and other members to receive livestock-management and other agricultural information—that helped cover the crucial “last mile” to older farmers. When a message from iCow passed along a tip already posted on Facebook about disease-free seeds available from the Kenya Agri Research Institution, that institution was, within two hours, besieged with hundreds of calls.

“Facebook has got the younger farmers on it, and iCow has the older farmers on it. We can bridge that gap to the older farmers who don’t have access to Facebook and don’t use the Internet,” said Su Kahumbu, the founder of iCow.

The episode is a reminder of the limits of Facebook, and of the role that small, mobile platforms and mobile-focused social networks can play, especially in the mobile-centric and culturally and ethnically nuanced African market.

via African Social Networks Thrive in a Mobile Culture – Technology Review.

For the past several months I’ve been working on a project for moving data around when there’s no internet.  I talked a bit about this at the Power of Information conference earlier this year in London, but I thought I’d share more here.

Abayima applies cold war tactics to mobile data storage and distribution.

Abayima targets anyone living in oppressive, restrictive, societies around the globe. It was inspired by the information networks during the most recent Uganda elections and the Arab Spring — both situations where electronic communication networks were compromised (or complete shutdown) by authorities.

As a strategy it will work in any country where there are low-end mobile phones, the most accessible communication technology on the planet. As a technology, it works for groups who wish to disseminate messages discretely in a way that mimics one of the oldest forms of communication,  pen and paper.

The History

Two recent events inspired the development of Abayima. In 2011 the internet in Egypt was shut off, preventing activists and dissidents from communicating with each other or the outside world. A few months later, in Uganda, during the reelection campaign for President Yoweri Museveni, the mobile carriers were compromised and monitored for voices of dissent. This allowed for the filtering of text messages that were deemed unacceptable, while the same networks were used to spread electronic propaganda in the form of SMS and MMS messages to the public.

As a Strategy

This conversation shaping using communication technologies for propaganda echoes the intimidation and propaganda techniques used by the German and Soviet governments during World War II and by many other oppressive governments since.  Anyone with two phones and a sim can do this right now but to do it more efficiently we’ll be developing an application to support this type of message storage.

Abayima is largely a strategy for moving messages sans telecom infrastructure. It’s also a toolkit which assumes electronic communication via internet or mobile carrier has been compromised completely and allows activists and journalists to use the SIM cards themselves to publish or distribute information freely.

As a Product

Rather than rely upon high-tech infrastructure, Abayima relies upon centuries old information networks inspired by the Jewish resistance, the underground slave escape routes in the United States, Navajo code talkers, the war scouts of Sparta etc. There is a long lineage of using no or low technical means of encryption to protect sensitive information.

As a technology Abayima is a way of storing information on SIM chips which can then be placed in a mobile phone on the other end to be read.

Examples:

  • A journalist writes several sensitive details and stores them to a SIM that isn’t used for texting, but to share the message with only a designated party whom they would hand deliver it to. Because the SIM isn’t used for calls, the only way to intercept the message is physically.
  • A group of activists could send messages between two locations using a ‘runner’. When the runner arrives he hands off the SIM which will contain messages for the recipient.
  • SIM cards are as ubiquitous as mobile phones and its generally understood how to use them across most populations. Thus, the SIM card itself could be a publishing/distribution mechanism for content of all types.
  • For advanced users with access to higher-end technology the messages could be written using a computer and our software, encrypted with software, and stored on the SIM. The receiver would need technology with a key to decrypt the message.  This adds a layer of protection against interception as it becomes necessary to crack the encryption algorithm first.

F.A.Q.

Why not use thumb drives?

Because thumb drives require two computers on either side, a level of infrastructure that exceeds the means of the poorest. The number of people with low end mobile phones, globally, far exceeds the number with access to computers.

Can’t these messages be intercepted?

Yes. Electronic communication like SMS can be ‘sniffed’ while passing through the air.  Paper with notes can be stolen.  People can be tortured to extract information.  There will always be a way to intercept communication.

That said, SIM cards are small, easy to destroy or swallow, and can’t be read without some sort of assistive device. Abayima (the product) can be used to encrypt whatever message is contained, adding another layer of protection.

Aren’t there better ways to distribute information?

Yes. This publishing method is more akin to pen and paper communication. By design, it is inefficient. But it’s highly practical if you have limited resources as it leverages local infrastructure. This is intended to be carried out in ‘last ditch’ scenarios where the more efficient methods of delivery like email, instant messaging, text messaging, VOIP or others have either been compromised by hackers, are being monitored by authorities, or completely disabled.  It’s a work around when the alternative is no long-distance communication at all.

What is a sneakernet? 

It refers to using your feet (sneakers) to move information around, particularly data storage devices. The implication is that though there are clearly other ways to access that information, the sneakernet is the fallback.

Visit the project at http://abayima.com

The TED Phone

Jon Gosier —  July 14, 2010 — 3 Comments

At TED Global in Oxford, UK this week TED and Nokia announced a partnership to bring TED talks to Africa and other developing parts of the world using the technologies that scale best, the mobile phone.

Using the soon to be released Nokia N8, TED plans to ship phones pre-loaded with TED talks (curated by TEDx organizers in those countries) to many parts of the world. These phones will be free to TEDx organizers in different countries and will feature 16gb of storage, a powerful projector for slides or playing back videos, an HDMI video camera, bluetooth, wifi and GPS. They will also ship with apps for audio and video editing.

Here are some of my notes from a discussion lunch that took place around the announcement:

– One of the Nokia reps pointed out that “Phone numbers used to represent locations not necessarily people.” This has changed a bit in that the reverse is often the case now, especially in developing countries.

– He also said that the “Kodak moment of the 21 century is the sharing of the moment.” Suggesting that it’s no longer enough to just capture the moment, people now want to share via social media with family and friends.

– Soon there will be 1 billion mobile users, 80% with gps enabled phones.

– Location based recommendation services are the new concierge maps.

– The goal is to get the ‘long tail’ of the world producing their own TED events and talks.

Is the growing skepticism on SMS warranted? One of the most rewarding aspects of running this company has been our International Fellows Program which invites developers from all over the world to Uganda to work alongside our staff as peers. The following post was written by one of our recent Fellows, Oliver Christopher Kaigwa Haas (we called him Ollie) who now works at Frog Design.

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The growing needs for workers heading into the field are becoming far more high-tech than in years past. This is partly because of the new technologies and infrastructure available, and partly because of the need to record a greater number of details at once. That said, I decided to do a quick comparison of some of the better handsets available, to determine if there was one smartphone that was perfect for developmental aid organizations. Eventually, these will be the phones that make apps like this possible.

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Stephane Boyera of the World Wide Web Foundation discusses the next 20 years of the internet and how the mobile web is poised to dramatically enable billions of people. Recorded on November 23, 2009 at TEDxKampala.

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Roscoe Nsumbuga of Mapswitch on using biometric identification cards used as part of a money transfer service that is enabling millions of Ugandans to access low-cost banking services via their mobile phones. Recorded on November 23, 2009 at TEDxKampala. Continue Reading…