The many potential channels for mobile services

11/1/2009 | Christian Kreutz

There is a wide variety of information and communication technologies, but even more ways to use them to deliver content. Particularly in constraint environments such as rural areas, a whole range of channels are offered to get information to a person needed. In preparation for next week's ICT observatory 2009 by CTA, Pete Cranston and I came up with examples of such different channels used in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

They can probably be categorized in a different way and more easily. They should show that if one wants to deliver service models around ICTs, they do not necessarily need to be around mobile phones, as the exchange of video CD of farmers shows (Interview of Louise Clark below), although the latter is oundoubtly the most promising tool. I have followed the tweets from the Mobile Web Africa conference and read these fascinating statistics:

  • The recently launched SMS service by Google, Grameen, MTN and BROSDI in Uganda for agriculture and tips received over a million queries in the first few weeks although the service charges premium SMS rates. The service offers answers out of search results from specific databases via SMS.

  • Google mobile traffic has increased 5 fold since 2007 in Africa. Google search results on mobile use in Africa are the highest in Nigeria, followed by Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and Cote d'Ivoire

  • It is estimated that South Africa will have 10.1 million mobile web users by the end of 2009.  The popular mobile social network application MXit has already over 5 million users in South Africa.

So here are some categories to differentiate between all the possible different channels. I am sure there are many missing or overlapping. Please add more in the comments.



  • Broadcasting

  • Community Radio

  • Feedback through mobile phone: SMS to radio

Basic mobile phones

  • Voice

  • Voice to text / Text to voice

  • Short Message (SMS)

Mid-range mobile phones

  • Mobile phones with additional features such as cameras and data transfers.

  • Data Transfer through GPRS

  • Mobile Application (e.g. Java software)

  • Mobile WAP

  • Additional features such as camera or bluetooth

Smart phones

  • Sensor Rich Application (All Purpose Tool)

  • Location based services through Global position system (GPS)

  • Social Network Features

  • Mobile Web

  • Video and Audio recording and sharing

Direct sharing Many different informal forms of content shared through different technologies.

  • CD, USB or IPod (Video, Audio, Text, Image)

  • Mobile (Video, Audio, Text, Image)

Indirect access For people who do not have direct access to mobile phones, computers or the Internet.

  • Infopreneur (Use of intermediary to access information)

  • Village phone (rent a mobile phone)

  • Village Area Networks (VAN)

Rural access Specific approaches to offer access in rural and remote areas

  • Internet Cafe

  • Telecentre

  • Rural kiosk

  • Local networks through Wifi and WiMax

Back at the last KM4DEV conference, I had the chance to interview Louise Clark, who talks about an interesting alternative way of sharing digital content in Nigeria.


Hello, Louise. We're here at the KM4DEV meeting in Brussels, and you have just brought some very interesting experiences from Africa about local content in rural areas.

Yes. I went last month to Benin and Nigeria to work with the African Rice Center. They have a very interesting project of using videos to share information around rice processing technology. The history to this project is that it started in Bangladesh, so the first of the series of videos were made in Bangladesh and showed technologies of how Bangladeshi families were selecting rice and storing their rice seeds.

These videos were brought to Africa to look at the kind of South/South knowledge exchange, and then some videos were made with African farmers in the African context and we distributed the six videos together. I went to Nigeria with some staff from Africa Rice to look at how farmers were using the videos and what was their experience of video for processing. And their experience was great. The feedback that we got was very, very positive.

Farmers, much to our great surprise, has access to video playing equipment. They were using VCD formats. So the extension service had transferred it from DVD to a VCD format. And the farmers were using the videos as part of their group meetings. So when they would get together in one of the farmer's houses, they would sit down and watch the video together, which we found to be really an innovation in itself, regardless of the innovations that the videos were promoting in terms of better rice processing techniques.

One of the great surprises was the accessibility of this equipment. There was one group that didn't have its own VCR player, or VCD player, and had bought a laptop to watch the video. I asked them about what else they used the laptop for, but they said just for the video. And they didn't think that was a waste of money because they now sell their rice for twice the price as they did before.

So that was a really great experience. Now Africa Rice have just released a new video looking more at Pproduction, soil management, crop management, different techniques, which is now being distributed across Africa.

You also told me that they are shared, in Nigeria in your case, these videos are shared between farmers all over the country.

In the Nigerian case, the farmers, there was a really high demand amongst the farmers for their own copy of the video. And that was one of the issues that we discussed, was how we could get better dissemination of the video, creating linkages with small enterprise in terms of making copies of the video for sale. Because all of the farmers reported that they would buy a copy for themselves and watch it in their homes. So we discussed the advantages and the disadvantages. They said the real advantage was that they could watch the videos over and over again. The disadvantage being that there was no extension agent on hand to ask questions.

So this is an interesting new challenge for us as knowledge management people, in terms of how we can improve the two-way flow of communication using a media like video. So the visual impact and the audio impact combined with farmers was very effective, but how can we use this to really encourage communication from the research institute like Africa Rice to the field and the farmers.

So if I have any more, I'll keep you posted.