Innovation That Matters

Personal 'cloud phone' service for rural users without a handset


There’s no doubt cell phones can make dramatic improvements in the lives of those in the developing world; the challenge is bringing those benefits to everyone. Earlier this month we featured Range Networks’ open source phone service for off-grid areas, and recently we came across UK-based Movirtu, which is helping to bring low-cost phone service to those who don’t own their own handsets. Movirtu’s MXShare service enables people who cannot afford a phone or SIM card to own a virtual “Cloud Phone” account with their own telephone number. Once launched by a local operator, people subscribe to the service by visiting their local village payphone agent or airtime voucher vendor to purchase a mobile number. To access their account, they simply borrow a phone from a friend or family member or use a streetside or community phone and enter a network code; that, in turn, activates the MXShare platform and enables the Cloud Phone service on the handset. Whereas without the MXShare service such users are anonymous and unable to receive private text messages or mobile payments, the Cloud Phone service makes them an identified subscriber with a unique phone number and prepaid account. No special handsets, SIM cards or additional client software are required; rather, the service works instantly on all basic mobile handsets available today in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. All information is transmitted between the handset and the MXShare server using secure channels, thereby eliminating the potential privacy issues associated with borrowing a handset. The system also manages the subscriber’s offline activity, tracking missed calls and sending notification alerts to friends or nearby village phone operators. Those with phones to lend, meanwhile, get rewarded with one-off fixed amounts or a percentage of the cost of the call or transaction as an incentive to share their handset. Also available from Movirtu are MXPay, which brings mobile banking services to those without a handset, SIM card or bank account; and MXInfo, which delivers personalised information services to such users. Four billion people in the world do not have a mobile phone, Movirtu says — time to get involved and help bring a very functionall service to the “base of the pyramid”? (Related: Social networking from any phone in the developing world.) Spotted by: Vodafone Mobile Challenge



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