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Monday, August 29, 2011

UK Start-up Company Looks To Link Up Third World Countries

Movirtu, a UK start-up is planning to help more than 3 million people in underprivileged countries gain access to mobile services by using a revolutionary method of offering their own personal mobile number but not an actual device.
It is planning to do this by partnering with a UN scheme known as Business Call to Action (BCtA). Instead of requiring an expensive handset, Movirtu allows a user simply to own a number, or identity that will be available through the mobile carriers in developing countries throughout South Asia and Africa. The identities can then be used by logging into other phones and then will gain access to their prepaid talk time and data usage packages – eliminating the need to have access to an expensive device whilst still allowing the use of a phone.

The savings are twofold, coming from the obvious lack of device costs, which even at just 15-20$ is a expensive price where the wages are typically just a couple of dollars. On top of this by using their own prepaid package they eliminate the costs involved when borrowing a phone. Typically, it is expected you will borrow a phone if you are in need, but you will pay a fee for the lending of the phone.
The scheme, which will target areas where phone uptake is obviously slow due to the costs, is expected to bring a number of benefits to the areas. It will allow access to services such as farming assistance, insurance and mobile banking, which are usually restricted to the owner of the phone; now these mobile identities will be accepted opening up a whole new world of possibilities to these deprived areas.

Movirtu has said that it hopes to induct at least 3 million new users initially to the service in Africa and South Asia and to continue to grow it where possible by using its link with U.N agencies and NGO’s, targeting 12 markets within 2 years. The first pilot rollout of the scheme is underway in Madagascar, which has good network coverage by its chief provider Airtel but is not widely used because of the costs of buying a phone. Once the service begins in earnest it is hoped to gain at least 50 million users, which is still a small drop in the ocean when compared to the 1 billion people in Africa and South Asia who rely on using borrowed phones.

The company is very hopeful for the future and hopes that the service will be a success and offer the chance for deprived areas to connect with the rest of the world, in particular targeting at woman users who are much less likely to own a phone when compared to men, either by choice or not. Ramona Liberoff of Movirtu said “Providing mobile identities in the developing world is Movirtu's primary business model” indicating just how hopeful they are that this service will take off and provide much needed links for poorer people in the targeted areas.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cell Phone Networks Jam As Panic Spreads After Quake

A lot of the east coast were left in the dark about what was going on after a large 5.8 quake hit just outside Richmond, Virginia. As people desperately tried to find out how the ongoing situation was affecting friends and family they were met with a contact brick wall as the cell phone service was jammed, leading many to believe that many improvements still need to be made to help mobile phones remain active in the aftermath of emergency situations.

All the main cell phone service providers (Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T) reported disturbances to their services after the earthquake hit on Tuesday 23rd August. Despite the fact that no damage actually occurred to the cell phone towers, because the quake was felt all along the east coast it was felt by millions in large cities such as New York, Boston and Washington D.C. leading to a rush of people trying to contact each other to find out about the situation elsewhere, which very quickly began to overwhelm the lines and eventually jammed them.

Even with all the improvements that have been made to the networks and the technology used, huge blasts of usage are still enough to bring the networks to standstill, because of the limitations of how much traffic the towers can handle, CITA (the wireless trade industry association) said after the quakes hit. Customers were also urged during the loss of service, and for any future situations, to send messages and emails to avoid clogging the lines up for vital calls. This message was echoed again by the leading service providers.

As for the future, cell phone companies are aiming to extend the 4G services all over the country and increasing the number of antennas to reduce the impact of high usage periods which may lead to jammed network services being a thing that only happened in the past.

The role of social media is becoming more and more obvious and with stress on the mobile networks still proving to be a problem, services like Facebook and Twitter are options to take over where mobile networks fail. Even during the quake last week people were using Twitter once the cell phone networks fell out of use, with the use extending to the network provider Sprint who informed customers to avoid using their cell phones for calls in anything but emergencies and instead use text messages.

How the situation will be resolved will be seen over the coming months and years, but until it is truly tested again in a real emergency we will not know exactly how effective the methods being used have been.