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Mobile telephones are widely used in the developing world with Africa in the midst of a mobile revolution. In the past 10 years, Africa has become the world's second most connected region by mobile subscription and is on track to hit one billion mobile subscriptions by 2015 (as quoted in a recent article by CNN). With this rapid rate of absorption, efforts are being made to develop techniques to reach end users with critical information through mobile phones.
For example, in Botswana the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has made efforts in engaging mobile phone companies to communicate early warning of extreme events. The use of unstructured supplementary services data (USSD) has shown potential in supporting post-disaster relief operations, particularly as it does not require the use of data or smart phones.
USSD works in a similar fashion to short message service (SMS) text messaging. However, USSD has a key difference from SMS messaging in that it offers a real time connection with a mobile operator. In this sense it is a session-oriented service that can provide a sequence of exchanged information that can be initiated by a customer (push) or by a service provided (pull) allowing for interactive services between a MS and applications hosted by the mobile operator. A USSD message can be up to 182 alphanumeric characters in length and can be composed of digits and #, * keys to allow users to easily and quickly get information/access services from the Operator.
Furthermore, USSD messages are simple to form and easy to send. A user can directly enter the USSD string and press call to send the message. A typical USSD message starts with a * followed by digits which indicate an action to be performed or parameters. Each group of numbers is separated by a *, and the message is terminated with a #. The USSD gateway in turn can interact with external applications based on the USSD command. This allows access to a number of value-added services via USSD.
USSD is currently being used by most mobile operators in services like checking your mobile phone balance. Wikipedia has also begun to use it to provide free Wikipedia access to 230 million mobile users in 31 countries. As mentioned, in the case of Botswana IFC is working to provide tools so that disaster-impacted communities can communicate their basic needs to relief agencies.
The CIRDA Programme aims to look into these initiatives in order to provide ideas on the best ways to communicate climate and hazardous weather information to end users.
- Nmachi Jidenma (January 2014). “How Africa's mobile revolution is disrupting the continent.” CNN. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
- "Unstructured Supplementary Services Data (USSD)". TelecomSpace. Retrieved July 6, 2014.
- Wadhwa, Kul (22 February 2013). "Getting Wikipedia to the people who need it most". Wikimedia blog. Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved 6 July 2014.