Full Story Full Story



A Solar Solution for Africa's Mobile Problem

A new product that consists of a small solar photovoltaic cell connected to a battery can recharge mobile phones in Africa where electricity is scarce.

Jason Deign
January 09 , 2012

Travel around Africa, and you do not have to go far to see a mobile phone. More than any other device, this is how Africans are accessing the networked world, using mobiles for everything from healthcare services to payments. By 2010 more than half a billion people in Africa and the Middle East were using a mobile phone.

These devices, however, have limitations in Africa, where mobile network growth is far outstripping the expansion of the electric grid across the continent. As a result, remote cellphone users may have to travel for hours or even days to recharge their handsets if they have no electricity supply. Such a challenge could easily hamper the mobile phone's ability to bring greater communication, convenience and prosperity to remote communities.

Disqus: What are the main barriers to connectivity in emerging markets?

Simon Bransfield-Garth thinks he has a solution to the problem—and it is as clear as daylight. His company, Eight19, has launched a product called IndiGo that consists of a small solar photovoltaic (PV) cell connected to a battery that can recharge mobile phones and power a high-efficiency, light-emitting diode lamp.

PV cells have often been touted as a potential cure for off-grid power supply challenges in the developing world, but the problem is that most rural Africans cannot afford its upfront cost. Eight19's innovation is that IndiGo is offered on a pay-as-you-go basis: the battery has an electronic "lock" that shuts it down after a week. The owner can get a "scratch card" and buy another week's worth of service for $1.

Bransfield-Garth believes IndiGo could be a major help for people in remote African locations who want to join the digital revolution. "Our view is that PV has a huge role to play in developing economies," he says. "There is ample sunshine and the cost of energy is much greater than in the West. This enables a dramatic transition. Within a few years, a household with access to the Internet is in a completely different place to one without."

Bransfield-Garth notes that in Madagascar phone usage has gone up by about 15 percent in areas where some form of battery recharging service is offered. "If you have to take a three-hour bus drive to charge your mobile phone then you will just switch it off," he reasons.

Brett Prior, a senior analyst with GTM Research, agrees that the pay-as-you-go PV model could offer a viable path for cash-strapped Africans to buy the power they need to get connected. "The challenge is they often do not even have $10 to buy even a basic solar panel," he says.

IndiGo is currently in trials in Kenya, with plans to reach tens of thousands of users in its first year.

Jason Deign is a freelance writer located in Barcelona, Spain.

The contents or opinions in this feature are independent and do not necessarily represent the views of Cisco. They are offered in an effort to encourage continuing conversations on a broad range of innovative technology subjects. We welcome your comments and engagement.

We welcome the re-use, republication, and distribution of "The Network" content. Please credit us with the following information: Used with the permission of http://thenetwork.cisco.com/.

Related Tags: Core Networks , Mobility , EMEAR

Web Content Display Web Content Display


Web Content Display Web Content Display

The Network is offering Google Translate in an effort to more easily share our content with a global audience. As these are free, machine translations, we cannot verify that all translations are accurate.


Web Content Display Web Content Display
Web Content Display Web Content Display

Web Content Display Web Content Display

Stay Connected

Web Content Display Web Content Display

Web Content Display Web Content Display


Web Content Display Web Content Display