A New Mobile Phone Aimed at the Poor

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A low-cost Venezuelan mobile phone aimed at the South’s poor is proving that South-South technological cooperation works. Packed with features and costing no more than US $15 – making it one of the cheapest mobile handsets in the world – the phone is aimed at the fast-growing mobile market across the global South.

The South is a dynamic market and has seen quick acceptance of mobile phones. The number of mobile phone users in the world passed 4 billion in 2008, and the fastest growth was in the South (ITU). The development of inexpensive handsets means the phones will be able to reach even more poor people. And packing these phones with the latest in multimedia capability means the poor will be able to make a technological leap.

The Venezuelan phone is being championed as the world’s cheapest mobile phone. It is a bold effort to create an affordable mobile phone packed with features: a camera, WAP internet access (wireless application protocol), FM radio, and MP3 and MP4 players for music and videos.

The phone uses inexpensive parts from China and is assembled in Venezuela. A quarter of the cost of manufacturing the phone is subsidized by the government. Venezuela often uses the profits from its oil industry to subsidize social goals.

The phone was launched on Mother’s Day by Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez with a call to his mother. Chavez boasted to the Guardian newspaper: “This telephone will be the biggest seller not only in Venezuela but the world.”

With his usual bravado, he said that “whoever doesn’t have Vergatario is nothing” – a statement that has become the marketing slogan for the phone on its website.

The phone already has a waiting list of 10,000 people. The phones are assembled in western Venezuela by Vetelca, a joint state (85 percent) and Chinese (15 percent) company. Vetelca hope to make 600,000 phones in 2009, and to sell more than 2 million in 2011. Exports will first target the Caribbean and then the world.

The desire to spark technological innovation at home is also alive in the Southern African country of Mozambique, which is making the bold move to start manufacturing computers for schools in the country. Like other African countries, Mozambique is connecting schools with computers and the internet. By manufacturing the laptop computers within the country, Mozambiquans are increasing the program’s economic benefit to the country, and building advanced technical skills.

Most Southern African countries rely on importing computers, and Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia are getting their school computers from the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) (www.laptop.org) initiative from the United States.

The Mozambique laptops are call Magalhael (www.portatilmagalhaes.com) and are made in partnership with the Mozambican Ministry of Science and Technology (www.mct.gov.mz/portal/page?_pageid=615,1&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL) and Portugal Telecom (www.telecom.pt/InternetResource/PTSite/PT). They come with a 60 gigabyte (GB) hard drive and 2 GB of RAM (memory) and are entirely built in Mozambique.

Read these stories on ICT4D from Development Challenges, South-South Solutions:

  • African Online Supermarket Set to Boost Trade
  • Brazilian Solar-Powered WiFi for Poor Schools
  • Crowdsourcing Mobile Phones to Make the Poor Money
  • Entrepreneurs Use Mobiles and IT to Tackle Indian Traffic Gridlock
  • Illiterate Get Internet at Touch of a Button
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    Resources

    • Kabissa: Space for Change in Africa: An online African web community promoting and supporting the transition to Web 2.0 services in Africa. Offers lots of opportunities to meet people throughout Africa and learn more.Website: www.kabissa.org
    • Business Fights Poverty: Business Fights Poverty is the free-to-join, fast-growing, international network for professionals passionate about fighting world poverty through good business. Website:http://businessfightspoverty.ning.com/
    • BOP Source is a platform for companies and individuals at the BOP to directly communicate, ultimately fostering close working relationships, and for NGOs and companies to dialogue and form mutually valuable public-private partnerships that serve the BOP. Website: http://bopsource.ning.com/

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