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Dutch Mobile Phone Firm Intivation Donates 1,000 Solar-Powered Handsets to Haiti

Dear All,

An older article I ran across...possible collaborator for some of our efforts (?), or FYI for our mobile-phone related ideas and plans. Janet

Dutch mobile phone firm Intivation has donated 1,000 of its solar-powered handset to the earthquake-stricken Caribbean country

By Matt Warman, Consumer Technology Editor
Published: 10:00AM GMT 06 Feb 2010

Haitians affected by the recent earthquake have been able to stay in touch thanks to a solar-powered phone

Haiti’s prime minister has described the damage done to his country by January 12’s earthquake as “a disaster on a planetary scale”. Earlier this week Jean Max Bellerive spoke of nearly a quarter of a million homes destroyed, 300,000 people injured and 200,000 dead – and nearly a month after the event itself, Port au Prince was still nowhere near resurrecting its power system.

But the Caribbean nation’s mobile phone networks were back up within a few days – most within just 24 hours. In a country where mobile phones are owned by one in three people, and massively outnumber landlines, the crucial issue for many residents was not being unable to communicate, it was being able to keep their phones charged. A number of people were saved because they were able to send text messages while they were trapped underneath the rubble from collapsed buildings.

Some entrepreneurs immediately saw a business opportunity – thousands were prepared to pay for 15 minutes connected to a car battery to recharge their mobiles. Dutch mobile phone firm Intivation, however, has long realised that its solar powered handsets were a solution to the problems of Haiti’s unreliable infrastructure. First launched in the Caribbean nation, the devices have subsequently been sold in seven more countries by 11 operators.

The company’s idea is a simple one: in countries in emerging markets, there’s often enough sun to make the latest solar power technology a viable way of charging phones, even in normal use. Where other companies use a number of solar cells, Intivation’s method of using a single, larger cell and adapting the power output is just one feature that makes their technology, on a cloudy day, more than 20 times as efficient as traditional solar technologies.

Indeed, before Intivation’s handset launched in Haiti in 2009, local operator Digicel knew that the country was a good market for solar technology. A trial, giving away solar chargers to existing customers, had increased revenues by 14 per cent, simply because it meant that users were able to use their phones more. In a country with very poor electricity supplies and a very poor population, the appeal of a phone that was independent of an unreliable grid system was obvious. In the aftermath of the earthquake, that independence has proved to be more of a boon than anybody could have guessed.

It was Paul Naastepad, Intivation’s chief executive, who realised his company could make a very practical contribution to the relief effort in Haiti. Digicel had already made a $5 million donation, but in the days immediately after the quake, Naastepad called his fellow board members and suggested donating 1,000 handsets to Haiti.

Amid the scramble for landing slots at Port au Prince’s damaged airport, the phones were delivered from Miami by the Wednesday following the quake, augmenting stock that was already in the country. Distribution was split between a local microfinance organisation, SSF, as well as Save the Children, Oxfam and other partners, with some handsets being used by individual citizens and others by organisers to help the relief effort.

Indeed, technology has played a crucial role in the Haiti relief effort – SMS is already a more popular means of communication than phone calls, and so the website Ushahidi has been able to adapt the system it developed in 2008 to map violent attacks in Kenya to help in the Caribbean. The non-profit group, Télécoms Sans Frontières (Telecoms Without Borders), with the United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation, has also brought in satellite phones.

Of course, solar technology has obvious advantages in every situation – from a green perspective, from a customer’s economic perspective, and from a pure convenience perspective, it makes sense for it to be deployed far more extensively. In the West, even indoors, technology that uses solar energy to supplement waning batteries will be on sale in the next few years; new solar-powered models from Intivation for the developing world will include a torch for the African market, and even a video camera for Latin America.

At the Mobile World Congress trade show later this month, solar power will be taking a larger chunk of exhibition space than ever before. While the iPhone, web access, video calling and email may hog the headlines in the UK, it’s the developing world where there’s real growth in mobile phones. Haitians, no doubt, now know the value of simple, sturdy devices more than ever.

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