Wednesday, 29 October 2008

New platforms for telephony and mobile phone services

As many of you know from our questionnaires and newsletters, we have been actively exploring how we can use mobile phones to extend access to AIDSPortal tools and services.

The reason for this?

Well, as of June 2008 only 5.3% of Africans have Internet access. Meanwhile 280.7 million Africans now have mobile phones - that's 30.4% of the population. The situation is better in other regions that we work (like Latin America), but still an issue among vulnerable groups. As a result we see mobile phones (or cell phones) as an important channel to enable people to access and share information.

There are an increasing number of tools available to help NGOs use mobile phones. See MobileActive's website for a useful directory of tools and providers. However, we have found that many of these tools are either commercial (requiring a license) or are local applications (and must be run from a PC hooked directly up to a mobile phone).

Since AIDSPortal works with both regional and national partners, including in Eastern and Southern Africa and Latin America, we are ideally looking for tools that can be run from a server, rather than a local PC. This makes it easier for information shared by someone in one country (using a mobile phone) to be accessed by someone in another country.


One such server based platform is currently under development. MobiLED is an open source telephony platform developed by the Meraka Institute of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

MobiLED currently includes the following tools:

Audio Wiki

The audio-wiki application allows the users to use the standard text messaging capability of the mobile phone (SMS) to request an article from the MobilED platform.


HaDeHa enables a teacher to type in a list of spelling words through a web browser (which may be Opera mini on a cell phone). The web application creates wav files for each word. It then generates a complete stand along Java midlet which pupils can down load onto their phones. The pupils can then practice their spelling words with the midlet playing the wav file and then testing the input from the pupil.


IGLOO aims to supply educators with a mobile application that can be used to facilitate and support pedagogic practices in formal and informal learning scenarios as well as provide practitioners with a tool they would be able to use for data gathering using mobile technology.


M-Tutor is a technology platform that was developed to allow tutors to handle high volumes of participants asking questions. This was a client/server solution using the MXit commercial platform.

While originally focused on the educational sector, we are now working with Meraka to explore how this platform could be adapted to the HIV and health sector.


Another platform under development is Mobilisr. Launched at the recent Mobile Active 2008 conference, Mobilisr has been developed by the Praekelt Foundation, Cell Life, UPFRONT Systems and Hello Computer.

Mobilisr offers the following modules:

  • Bulk Messaging
  • Interactive SMS
  • USSD or Unstructured Supplementary Data Service to enable you to deliver WAP-like content
  • Campaign Building to support large campaigns with many different actions, each with its own timing and reporting requirements
  • Database and list management
  • Reporting
  • Data Capture
  • And many more. See here for a full list of features.
We've started talking with the Praekelt Foundation to learn more about this platform and understand how AIDSPortal partners might use it. This is a fast moving area with some interesting initiatives underway. We hope to be able to work with the different partners behind these initiatives to identify tools that can support our network of partners.