Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Win-Win Solutions: Linking Climate Information with the Telecommunications Sector

By Montserrat Xilotl
Sierra Leone
Negotiating and building win-win solutions is an essential component for sustainable development, where identifying common solutions and creative partnerships can go a long way to boost profits and build more resilient lives. Identifying win-win solutions that bring together smallholder farmers and vulnerable communities with the ever-growing African telecommunications sector is a giant, in-your-face win-win solution that can produce lasting impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of people while providing an attractive opportunity for the private sector.  But making it happen is easier said than done.

During various CIRDA Workshop and events, the CIRDA Team has found promising opportunities for establishing partnerships with local mobile telecommunication providers.

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. Currently 720 million Africans own a mobile phone, and it is expected that this year the number of cell phones on the continent will exceed the population. Mobile phones and mobile technologies thus provide an ideal platform to communicate early warnings and other vital climate information to end users in a seamless fashion.  

Innovative uses of mobile phone communication technologies for collection of weather data are being explored – for example, the company Telecel Faso in Burkina Faso is working with the NHMS in Burkina Faso to test the use of rainfade technology to produce data on localized precipitation equivalent to that of radar technology at a fraction of the cost.

In addition, the ubiquitous towers used for mobile telecommunication can provide a secure location for national hydro meteorological services (NHMS) to site equipment and facilitate the collection and transmission of observational data. Research has shown that the locations of many such towers are indeed suitable for the collection of representative weather data.

All too often, the greatest challenge to the NHMS staff lies on how best to approach and successfully engage mobile telecommunication providers. Answers lie in identifying win-win solutions that are attractive to both NHMS and the mobile telecommunications provider.

Recently a presenter at a CIRDA workshop shared the following graph; the data displayed are consistent with similar CIRDA Team presentations during past events. The plot supports the notion that that once reliable, useful weather information becomes readily available via phone, the demand for phones and the amount of air-time used goes up. 

This has certainly been the case in the US, Europe, Japan and India. The graph indicates that 39% of feature phone users routinely accessed weather info via their phones; only on-line games exceeded that degree of usage. The experience in other companies is similar.

This points to potential win-win opportunities for partnerships between NHMS and mobile phone companies in which the public benefits from reliable, timely and readily available weather information while mobile phone companies add a service of high value to consumers thus increase their demand. Increased demand and air-time use in turn grows revenues and has the potential to expand networks.

Of course, for this potential opportunity to be realized it requires that mobile phone providers develop applications that provide a quality service. NHMS need to be prepared to provide appropriate products and services that are packaged for the dissemination through mobile phones. The NHMS’s do have competition in this area – several of the major global weather companies are willing to provide mobile phone providers with basic product streams. Programmes like CIRDA are working with national NHMS’s to enhance their capacity to produce this type of information.  

Where there is demand, there is opportunity. Research indicates that there is an unmet demand for weather information provided through mobile phone services. The potential upside for the mobile phone company will drive the development of the necessary phone applications.  The question in the end becomes, who will be the first to provide the information and data streams that will drive these applications?

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