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#DispatchesDNLee: Tanzania from A to Z – Cell Phone Technology

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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During my visit to Tanzania in Summer 2012, I began a series of posts sharing my experiences in Tanzania from A to Z.

C is for Cell Phone Technology

I attended the Blogging from Developing Nations Panel at ScienceOnline 2012, to prepare for my visit to Tanzania.  I wanted to get an idea of what to expect, technology-wise while visiting Africa. I made several Twitter friends who were from Tanzania and a few US researchers who worked/studied in Tanzania.  They all gave me some good insight.  I was heartened to learn that Tanzania, like most of developing world is 3G accessible… Actually, some parts of Tanzania are 3.75 G.

I have no idea what 3.75 G is. (LOL)

I read that these nations were actually the leaders in innovation and expansive adoption of mobile technology for a variety of needs: banking, communicating internationally, surfing the web, and commerce. And it is true.  I was so impressed!This simple monochrome screen old-school phone can do as much, perhaps more than our fancy-pants smart phones we love so much in the West.  Even without QWERTY key pads folks text message, pay bills, access the internet and more. And it’s all facilated via something equally simple – scratch off credit vouchers.

You purchase credit vouchers from your provider. In Tanzania the popular providers include Zantel, Airtel, Tigo, and Vodacom. I used Zantel for my cell phone and PC tablet internet. I used Vodacom for my iPad. These credits are money and very valuable. You load the credits on your cell phone.

First, Scratch off to reveal the PIN number on the back of the card.

Next, dial the code to load and the PIN number to the phone.  This uploads credit to your phone. You can use the value of the credits you’ve loaded to make and receive calls as well as text messages. You can also transfer this credit to pay for other services.  Following a set of prompts, on your phone’s menu you can transfer credit to pay for internet access. I am told a similar method is employed to pay bills or transfer money to other people (think Western Union, but all via cell phone). I loved it. I thought was completely different way of using and relating to technology. The device isn’t what controls the technology, it’s all in the Cards – Scratch-off Voucher Cards and the SIM Cards.

Phones don’t come with a plan. Any phone can be used with any provider. It’s the SIM card, which only cost Tsh 1000 (~ $0.65 USD) that makes communication and transactions possible. The SIM cards is how you get your phone number. It’s this number that you load and transfer credits to other services. You can take your SIM Card and put it in any device that it fits. Prices for phone and internet services vary, so it isn’t uncommon for folks to have multiple phones and numbers to handle business.

The serial number is your phone number

SIM cards only come in one size. For Apple devices you have to cut the card to size

I tried to cut my SIM card free-hand. I later learned there’s a guy with a card puncher that cuts the SIM card to size perfectly for Apply devices. Another example of how Maker Technology fuels entrepreneurial opportunities to solve real-life challenges.

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Other posts in the #DispatchesDNLee: Tanzania from A to Z series
#DispatchesDNLee: Tanzania from A to Z – Archaeology
#DispatchesDNLee: Tanzania from A to Z – Botany

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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