Technology in the developing world

eLearning Africa has announced that next year’s conference, the fifth in the highly successful series of pan-African gatherings, will take place in Zambia from May 26th-28th, 2010. The Call for Papers deadline has now been extended to Friday, January 15th, 2010.

According to a recent article in InfoWorld, netbooks are gaining popularity in Africa.
Portability, low cost and minimal power demands are driving the trend as more Africans get Internet access. Major suppliers include Dell, Samsung, Asus, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Acer and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC).

W3C recently released their "Mobile Web for Social Development Roadmap" a comprehensive document which sits at the heart of the wider work of the Mobile Web for Development Interest Group (MW4D).

Meanwhile, Mike Kellett and Joe Morgan, co-founders of IP2, a UK based joint venture which aims to provide a low-cost international mobile technology service, recently launched their global mobile platform at CES 2010. Unlike other similar services, IP2 is taking a different approach according to Kellett, "We have a system that doesn’t depend on government intervention." IP2 will launch a cellular service based on the concept of VMSP, or virtual mobile service provider. Anyone can start a VMSP and sell services and handsets. Usually, a license to operate as a local mobile service provider can cost up to $5 million, but IP2 will be selling VMSP licenses for only $41,200.

Still on mobile phone technology, an report recently published on presented an African campaign which is using cell phone technology to expose stock-outs of essential medicines at public health facilities and put pressure on governments to address the issues.

The UN Foundation/Vodafone Foundation Partnership report published last week outlines examples of new technologies that mitigate conflicts and save lives worldwide. A report author said it reveals that aid agencies "fail to take advantage" of new tools available. It says a number of challenges remain to maximise the tools’ potential. The report concludes that social networking tools such as Ushahidi, FrontlineSMS, Twitter, and Facebook, should become a primary and trusted source of information in situations such as natural disasters.

In other technology news, new communications applications are being pioneered across Africa with a view to eventual profit and based on meeting vital social needs. A new partnership launched in June between Google, MTN and the Grameen Foundation is facilitating small-scale enterprise by through the launch of a mobile-based ‘Google Trader’ application to all MTN customers in Uganda. Alongside a suite of four other applications, including a text service giving tips on sexual health or farming, subscribers will be able to use their phones to search and buy anything from a sack of bananas to a new house.

Last week saw the launch of MultiLearn, a system developed at the UW, which connects multiple keypads to a single computer. Early tests demonstrates that elementary school students using the tool are able to share a single screen while working on problems at their own pace, effectively quadrupling the number of computers available for math exercises.

In an ArsTechnica article, multi-hop mesh networking technologies are reviewed, particularly in developing countries. The author concludes that mesh networks may provide a cheap way to get villages in the developing world online, whilst not posing a serious threat to large telecommunication organisations in the developed world.

Finally, the Universidad de Los Andes in Venezuela has been described as a ‘technology mecca’ after the establishment and progress of its Institutional Repository over the past decade. Starting in 2000, the IR now holds some 19,000 records and has attracted 40,000,000 visits to its portal. 

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