Mobile telephony to reach 400,000 people in remote African villages


At a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya….Zain, Ericsson and the Earth Institute announced the provision of telecommunications deliverables to the Millennium Villages of Dertu (Kenya), Ruhiira (Uganda) and Molla (Tanzania).

The initiatives were first outlined in September 2007 at Columbia University, when Zain, Ericsson and the Earth Institute announced a partnership to provide mobile communications and Internet connectivity to the Millennium Villages projects covering up to 400,000 people in 10 sub-Saharan African countries where the project is working.

Ericsson and Zain (through its wholly-owned African subsidiary Celtel) have teamed up to develop a comprehensive end-to-end telecommunication strategy in the villages and to drive mobile phone connectivity and coverage build-out to selected areas.

Chris Gabriel, CEO of Celtel, says: “It is wonderful that the people in this remote part of Africa will have access to basic, but effective mobile internet access over an EDGE network. Here we can see how mobile communications can play a key role in helping improve the quality of life for people even in the remotest parts of the world.”

Carl-Henric Svanberg, CEO and President, Ericsson, says: “The Millennium Village project provides us with a unique ecosystem to demonstrate the benefits of voice and Internet. We believe the uptake of mobile services could go even quicker than anticipated in this environment, as the need for even basic services is so much greater. The project is one concrete example where we are actualizing our commitment to the MDGs, while at the same time stimulating positive business impacts and opening new markets in remote parts of rural Africa.“

Jeffrey Sachs, Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General and Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, says: “Mobile communication is perhaps the single most transformative technology for rural African villages to improve access to health care and education, create new business opportunities and access to markets, and ultimately to help eradicate extreme poverty. We are excited by the tremendous opportunities which mobile phones make possible in every kind of community and economic activity – ranging from pastoralists and farmers, to traders, health workers and teachers.”

Key deliverables

  • In Kenya, Zain and Ericsson have deployed a temporary mobile network providing service to 5,000 people in Dertu for the first time.
  • In October this year, the temporary network will be replaced by a permanent one that will continue to be operated by Zain. The permanent solution will also use Ericsson’s sustainable energy solutions including wind, solar energy and other solutions to drive equipment at minimum power requirements. It is estimated that the permanent solution will run at 80% increased efficiency over traditional diesel-powered mobile sites.
  • Sony Ericsson has supplied mobile handsets to the Millennium Village health clinics and community health workers. Together with Ericsson, they have developed a new Solar Village Charger that is capable of re-charging 30 mobile phone batteries each day and eight phones simultaneously for each village cluster.
  • In Tanzania and Uganda, Ericsson has upgraded Zain’s GSM network to EDGE and at the same time improved coverage and network reach. Using a combination of ‘fixed-wireless terminals’ mobile Internet connectivity will be provided to schools and health centres. Plans are also in-place to extend coverage to all 73,000 people in both village clusters. Sony Ericsson and Ericsson also have provided handsets to community and health workers and piloted new healthcare applications for mobile learning purposes as well as basic household data collection Zain has provided SIM cards and established emergency numbers to improve access to healthcare and emergency services.
  • Zain will also provide a toll-free number that can be used in medical emergencies to connect patients with on-duty medical personnel. Other initiatives include a mobile learning tool to train community health workers and mobile applications to collect and share basic household data and health information.

How telephony improves lives
A 2005 report by Leonard Waverman of the London Business School, estimates that the average developing nations sees its economic growth rise by .06 per cent for every 10 per cent growth in the number of mobile phone subscribers.
In 2007, the GSM Association applied Waverman’s methodology to a group of 57 developing nations and found that the impact was doubled, boosting economic growth by 1.2 per cent for every 10 per cent rise in mobile users.

Ericsson and Zain believe that the introduction of mobile communications will help to prove the business case for early adoption of EDGE/3G/mobile broadband services in Africa, while at the same time significantly contributing to the improvement of social and economic conditions of the nearly half million people living in the villages.

Dertu, Kenya, is situated in the northern part of the country, situated 100 km north of Garissa, close to Somali border. It spreads on area of 750 square kilometers with a total population of just over 5,200, mainly pastoral and nomadic society.

Uganda’s Ruhiira Millennium Village cluster is situated south from Mbarbara on 338 square kilometers with a population of over 43,000. The hilly terrain and poor roads and communication systems make transport in Ruhiira exceptionally difficult.

Tanzania’s Mbola cluster is about 20 communities spread out over 700 square kilometers with a total population of 30,000. Located in the Uyui district in midwestern Tanzania. The nearest city center is Tabora which is located 36 km away.

About Millennium Villages project
The Millennium Villages project, based at The Earth Institute at Columbia University, is a science-based bottom-up approach to lifting rural villages out of the poverty trap that afflicts more than a billion people worldwide. The community-drive initiative currently operates in 10 sub-Saharan African countries where it tackles challenges related to health, education, nutrition, livelihoods, gender equality and other vital issues.

About Zain
Zain (formerly MTC) is a leading emerging markets player in the field of telecommunications aiming to become one of the top ten mobile groups in the world by 2011. Zain was established in 1983 in Kuwait as the region’s first mobile operator. Since 2003, it has grown significantly becoming the 4th largest telecommunications company in the world in terms of geographic presence with a footprint in 22 countries spread across the Middle East and Africa providing mobile voice and data services to 45.7 million active customers (as at 31 March 2008).

In the Middle East the company operates under the Zain brand name in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, and Sudan. In Lebanon the company operates as mtc-touch. Zain plans to commence operations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2008.

In Africa, Zain operates under the Celtel brand ( in 14 sub-Saharan African countries namely: Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The company’s mobile telecommunications operations in Ghana will begin in 2008.

The Zain brand is wholly owned by Mobile Telecommunications Company KSC, which is listed on the Kuwait Stock Exchange (Stock ticker: ZAIN). The company had a market capitalization of over USD28.5 billion on 1 March, 2008. For more information on Celtel and Zain, visit

About Ericsson
Ericsson is the world’s leading provider of technology and services to telecom operators. The market leader in 2G and 3G mobile technologies, Ericsson supplies communications services and manages networks that serve more than 195 million subscribers. The company’s portfolio comprises mobile and fixed network infrastructure, and broadband and multimedia solutions for operators, enterprises and developers. The Sony Ericsson joint venture provides consumers with feature-rich personal mobile devices.

Ericsson is advancing its vision of ‘communication for all’ through innovation, technology, and sustainable business solutions. Working in 175 countries, more than 70,000 employees generated revenue of USD 27.9 billion (SEK 188 billion) in 2007. Founded in 1876 and headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, Ericsson is listed on the Stockholm and NASDAQ stock exchanges.

About Earth Institute
The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world’s leading academic center confronting the practical challenges of sustainable development. Its core activities include educating and training the next generation of global leaders, advancing scientific research, and implementing practical solutions to create a more sustainable world.

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Oluniyi D. Ajao
Oluniyi D. Ajao is an Internet Entrepreneur and Tech Enthusiast based in South Africa. Follow him on twitter @niyyie for more tech updates.

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