Mobile phones are used by reporters to report news from potentially any corner of Africa. Mobile financing is the hottest trend in Zimbabwe and few other Asian and African countries. Money is transferred through SMS at ease. Countries like Rwanda use mobile extensively in the health care sector. I have seen many Indian farmers using mobile phone exclusively in their agricultural trade. It is the same case in many other countries in Asia and Africa too. There are several other examples of mobile data usage in the developing economies. In Africa, wireless operators are not only providing an opportunity for banking and commodity exchange, they are also providing them at a much lower cost leading to drastic proliferation of mobile data usage.
In my opinion, Cloud Computing and Mobile technology can help people in Africa by offering technological solutions for their everyday needs. One such application of modern technology is the example of how teachers in Ethiopia are tapping into Microsoft Azure Cloud to plan and download curriculum, keep track of academic records and securely transfer the student data to make it available throughout the education system. Danny Kim, chief technology officer of FullArmor, a Boston company working on the software deployment in the Ethiopian project, pointed out to two of the advantages of Cloud Computing as a biggest factors in helping these teachers in Ethiopia. They are
- Low cost – The biggest problem for people in African countries and organizations trying to offer help in these countries are their tight budgets. They are handicapped by the lack of technology due to the high costs involved in using them. The low cost advantage of cloud computing can help them overcome this handicap
- Faster time to market – Another big issue for Africa when it comes to tapping into technology is the time consumed in the implementation. With cloud computing, this time is drastically reduced and it helps the organizations helping people and governments there in a big way.
The large scale proliferation of mobile devices among the people in Africa and the ubiquitous availability of data and apps through cloud computing offers us tremendous opportunities to reach Africa and help them get over the economic divide.
Even though I am pretty confident about the utility value of these two technologies in Africa, I never got a chance to discuss with anyone working with the people there. However, recently, I came across a blog post written by Juliana Rotich, someone who is closely connected to Africa, on this topic. In her post she points out to a talk given by a student at University of Eastern Africa, Simeon Oriko, on the topic of using mobile phone and cloud computing to solve the problems there.
After highlighting the problems in the traditional mobile web such as
- Storage in mobiles is paltry
- Flaky connections particularly in rural areas
- Small display screens (I should also add differing display screens. @cellstories had to deal with this when the Droid came out)
- Flaky browsers. So many to choose from, optimized for different devices
Mr Oriko points out to possible solutions by taking advantage of cloud computing. One of the advantages pointed out by Mr. Oriko is the possibility to put the processing power of the mobile phone to the cloud like Amazon EC2. This is a realistic advantage. In May, I wrote a post titled Mobile Phone Processing as a Service where I highlighted about a project called Clonecloud which seamlessly taps into the Cloud for the processing power.
CloneCloud is one such attempt where a Smart Phone is cloned and kept in the Cloud. The mobile phone can, then, tap into the Clouds for virtually unlimited processing power and storage. When an user uses the Smart Phone for a particular task, the processing is done on the Clouds without the user even realizing it. It is not like the SaaS applications where the processing is done on the Cloud and the user interacts only through a browser. In this case, the user will be using the various apps and other functionality on the phone. It is just that the clone on the Cloud is much more powerful than the actual Smart Phone and when the user executes a particular task, it is done either on the phone or on the Cloud depending on the resources needed for the task. According to the TR article, CloneCloud makes the Smart Phones not just more efficient but also more capable.
The other points highlighted by Mr. Oriko in the talk are the issue of standards and integration with services like Pesapal which helps African communities.
It is interesting to get some validation for some of my thoughts from people who are associated directly with the continent. It also makes me happy that there are ways in which we can use these newer technologies to solve problems that matters the most. If you are associated with any organization working in Africa and have any insights into how these technologies can be tapped to help the people there, we will be more than happy to post it here at Cloud Ave. Feel free to contact us.