Mobile phones, developing nations, an amazing solution! (Article by Shane)

Simon Morris mozrat at
Thu Apr 20 21:41:13 UTC 2006

On 20/04/06, Shane M. Coughlan <shane at> wrote:
> I have been working away on various things during the last couple of
> weeks, and one was how mobile phones could be used as ICT (Information
> and Communication Technology) solutions in developing nations.
> The blog post is "fluid," in that I've put out the idea and will be
> revising the article based on feedback.  It's not finished (and perhaps
> I have some horrific typos), but it's far enough along that I wanted
> other people to see it.  Let's call it professional suicide.


That was interesting "commute home" reading. Nice article. My thoughts below....

There is a gross inequality in the distribution of empowering
Information and Communication Technology (ICT).  Access to
productivity and communication solutions is currently the domain of
the richest one sixth of the world, with the remaining five sixths
remaining resolutely disenfranchised with regards personal computing,
mobile communication, and instant processing of  information.

This is the 'Digital Divide,' an unnecessarily damaging situation
where the people who most need productivity solutions are unable to
obtain them.  In effect, the vast majority of the human race is
condemned to prolonged poverty and inefficient economic, political and
social solutions due to neglect and a lack of effort with regards
sharing technology.

This is quite obviously true, but it is equally true of all other
aspects of the developing world.

Maybe your statement is more relevant to the social, industrial and
economic aspects than the ICT aspect as this form of technology is
fairly young, whilst the developing world has been slipping further
behind the West for decades or even centuries.

My question (most probably a rhetorical question) is from a technology
point of view how can we break this cycle, where people don't have
access to affordable technology (or healthcare, social support)
because of their poverty which in turn drags them further behind the
rest of the world and deeper into poverty?

The second option (of providing usable VGA output on a phone) is
viable, but requires a certain level of commitment from manufacturers
to introduce an output port  on all new mobile phones.  The port would
be designed to work in conjunction with a special cable to allow
connection from the mobile phone to the aerial input on a television

Obviously your plan describes a possible solution that would have to
occur during the next few generations of mobile phones - not least
because people would have to own and use the phone to then donate it
for recycling to the developing world.

When we look at how much more advanced phone displays are today as
compared to 3 generations of devices ago I am sure that they will be
capable of running advanced applications in a usable resolution in
full colour.

However the output interface you describe you have to be either a)
developed and implemented by device vendors specifically for the idea
that consumers will donate the phone or b) the output to TV interface
will have a useful function for the original owner.

Not only would the interface have to be useful to the original owner I
suspect the phone vendor will have to be able to sell services based
around people wanting to watch their phone via the TV set. Seeing
people watching movies on their PSPs riding the London Underground
this may be a reality someday, but I think that is a barrier there.

If we look at the functionality of phones today and the technology
available I can see a "version 1.0" to your plan that you described in
the paper.

Phones today have the following characteristics

* They can output the full ASCII alphabet (or at least common
alphanumeric characters and a host of commas, semi colons etc etc)

* Predictive texting

* They have SMS functionality

* They have network access over GSM and possibly GPRS

* They have voice capability

Could governments in developing countries provide a telephony
interface to services using commands sent by SMS, or possibly voice
recognition software.

When I bought a digital certificate recently I was emailed and told to
phone a number and complete a registration process on the phone. The
system was fully automated and it recognised the registration code and
my name verbally.

As a user of a Blackberry (which admittedly is a richer interface than
a standard phone) I regularly access a bash session over MobileSSH and
GPRS. I'm not suggesting we teach the entire developing world
/bin/bash but you could develop any text based system you wanted and
allow people to access it over a thin SSH client

I also have a Cisco 7940 phone which has a on screen "web browser"
which is very light on functionality. It is driven by an up button,
down button, enter button and a cancel button.

However I can easily check the BBC news headlines on it, weather
information and other services so it is useful.

I believe that technology could be brought to the people you described
in your article based on todays technology, but the methods you
described would be the next generation of the concept.


Jabber: mozrat at

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