Freedom Fone faces a number of challenges in 2013 as it transitions from a donor funded development model to a community supported software project.
Historically, Freedom Fone was developed to help activists quickly set up automated voice menu, voicemail and SMS information services independent of the Internet and with a minimum of reliance on mobile network operators.
Tich and I are recently back from Lilongwe, Malawi's capital city. We were there to run a Freedom Fone user training workshop for six organisations involved in community mobilisation and 2-way information sharing.
OK, so there are still some hurdles to jump before the 40 finalists in the inaugural African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC) are whittled down to the 20 or so winners in this prestigious competition. Still, the next round should be really productive and interesting as the finalists meet in Zanzibar to work on their pitches and products ahead of the November 10 announcement of winners in Dakar later this year.
Wow, it’s hot in Dar, and this is winter in Tanzania. My ankles are swollen and it helps to sleep with a fan on at night. The city seems to be booming...buildings are going up in the city centre, bill boards compete for consumer shillings and the morning rush hour(s) is a force to be reckoned with. The most prominent products for sale are mobile related services – Tigo, Airtel (previously Zain) and Vodacom compete through vibrant advertising for a share of this lucrative market. Thanks to the competition, call and SMS costs have become very affordable in Tanzania.
In late May, Amy & I went down to Bulawayo to run a hands-on Freedom Fone training workshop for 11 participants based in Zimbabwe's City of Skies. The workshop was hosted there by a vibrant community radio station called Radio Dialogue. That will sound like a contradiction in terms as Zimbabwe has yet to award a broadcast licence to any community radio station in the country.
I've spent time recently testing the pre-release version 1.5 of Freedom Fone in Zimbabwe. Lots of little bugs have presented themselves but for the most part this version has been a revelation. The closest tech support has been Alberto in freezing Stockholm and Giovanni somewhere in Italy. I am sweating it out in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Freedom Fone's ability to fulfill it's promise as a must have tool for bridging the digital divide has yet to be determined. Millions of poor people have access to mobile phones, but with tariffs as high as they are in countries like Zimbabwe, experimentation in this field is still costly. And of course, for our project these are early days.
Kubatana, a Zimbabwean non-profit organisation committed to democratising access to information, was awarded a Knight News Challenge grant in May 2008 for its Freedom Fone software development project. The Freedom Fone project aspires to help civic organisations extend their information in an audio format to mobile phone users.
Open source telephony platform, Asterisk, has been used for years as an inexpensive alternative to proprietry PBXs, democratising this previously closed service industry. Why then did Freedom Fone choose to use FreeSWITCH as its telephony component instead of Asterisk? Our Project Architect, Alberto Escudero Pascual, will answer that question in the new year, but until then clues lie in this comment from Telecom Monthly: