UPDATE 10/19/2010

Thanks to everyone who contributed data or linked to this excercise!

The data gathering excercise is no longer open.  For a discussion of the results proceed to Kevin’s blog. Also, our draft paper for M4D Uganda is here.

The links below, to the Ushahidi tool, are no longer active.


In a hurry? Jump to the site or, even better, submit a report.

Got a minute? Read more below….

Kevin Donovan and I are asking people to supply first-hand reports about the availability and ease of use of prepay, “pay as you go” mobile data in Africa.

In places like South Africa and Kenya, accessing the internet via your mobile phone seems to be relatively straightforward – just pop in your SIM, buy some airtime, point your phone’s browser or app toward the internet…and off you go.  The key is that there is no data plan to sign up for, no monthly bill, and lower barriers to use. But is it that easy everywhere else? We first tried to do this assessment based directly on operators’ websites, but information is sparse and the terminology varies.

Kevin blogged about this last week.  We’ve gotten some great tweets and/or blog coverage by folks like ICTworks and MobileActive.  But this is a not an overnight project…we need lots of you not just to visit the site, but to post your experiences, and to ask your friends and colleagues across every corner of the continent to do the same.  Got a cousin in Burkina Faso or Angola? Know a student in Khartoum or Dakar?  Ask them to submit a report.   If we can get at least one or two firsthand reports from each major mobile operator in the region, we will be able to get a much clearer picture of where mobile access to the internet is easy, and where it remains difficult.

On the one hand, this is useful for international travelers who want to know if they can get access to cheap data while on the road.  Take it from me, it is depressing to come home to a fat bill thanks to international data roaming changes.

But perhaps more importantly, this is useful data for the ICT4D and M4D community.  The availability of prepay data is important for widespread adoption of the mobile internet in the same way that pay-as-you-go (prepay) airtime was/is important to voice telecom – prepay/satchel pricing is a mainstay of pro-poor approaches for “Bottom of the pyramid” customers.  There is a great deal of hope (and hype) right now that mobile access to the internet will help “close the digital divide”, but if such access is locked up behind monthly plans, or behind confusing sign-up procedures, unreliable GPRS settings or high minimum balances, this divide won’t close anytime soon.

We’re using Ushahidi for this crowdsourcing exercise.  It was a snap to set up and, although nothing we’re doing resembles a crisis situation, the core functionality has been really helpful.

Finally, we have more to say on this in this working paper, A Note on the Availability (and Importance) of Pre-Paid Mobile Data in Africa.  The goal of this project is to deepen the evidence underpinning this paper, and to help make getting online easier for would-be mobile-only users around the region.

So again, Jump to the site or, even better, submit a report. Thanks!


screen grab via ICTworks