Zain, Ericsson and the GSMA to save lives on Lake Victoria by extending mobile coverage

The 200,000 fisherman that work on Lake Victoria will soon have the opportunity to use mobile phones to call for help if they get into trouble on the world’s second largest inland lake. Pan-Africa mobile operator Celtel, a subsidiary of Zain, and Ericsson, in an initiative coordinated by the GSMA’s Development Fund, have committed to extend the mobile networks across the Lake Victoria region, fuelling economic and social development of the lakeside communities and potentially reducing the number of fishing-related deaths each year.

Zain and Ericsson are upgrading Celtel’s existing infrastructure and building an additional 21 radio sites to provide mobile coverage up to 20 kilometers into the lake. This will take about six months and ensure mobile coverage to over 90 percent of the fishing zones, where up to 5,000 people die each year from accidents and piracy.

The project will use Ericsson’s Extended Range software package to more than double the effective range of radio base stations and Ericsson’s Mobile Position System, a location-based service that enables emergency authorities to triangulate the mobile signal of fishermen in distress. Ericsson’s green site solutions, including solar and hybrid power* solutions, will also be utilized to provide electric power to the base stations in the more remote island areas.

The GSMA and Zain are working with the governments in the region and not-for-profit groups to establish a rescue coordination service to provide assistance to lake users, which in the longer term will be run by the EAC’s planned Regional Maritime Communications Centre (RMCC). This initiative is helping to fulfill the objectives of the EAC Lake Victoria communications strategy, which was adopted in 2007.

Ericsson, Zain and the GSMA’s Development Fund have spent the past six months investigating how to provide better communications for the 30 million people in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda who live in the immediate vicinity of the lake. The move to extend the region’s mobile network reflects the companies’ commitment to corporate responsibility and to improving lives through communication, and is supported by a solid business case based on increased subscriber numbers and a higher volume of data traffic, thereby ensuring the sustainability of the project.

Dr Tom Okurut, Executive Secretary of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission says: “This is an exciting project that will contribute fundamentally towards the improvement of safety of navigation on Lake Victoria. It is the first major telecommunications infrastructure investment project that complements and aligns well with the planning and preparations coordinated by the EAC.”

Zain also plans to provide value-added services, such as up-to-the-minute market prices, which will have a significant impact on local people’s livelihoods. Academic research** in India found that using mobile phones can significantly boost fishermen’s earnings by enabling them to find the best prices for their catch. The availability of mobile services is also expected to benefit the tourism, transportation and fish export industries and could be key to attracting further business development in the region.

Dr Saad Al Barrak, CEO of Zain Group, says: “Zain is committed to supporting the communities we serve making vital telecommunications accessible to all. This investment will be further supported by our One Network concept, which eliminates international roaming fees for our customers who cross regional borders.”

Jan Embro, President of Ericsson in sub-Saharan Africa, says: “This project is an excellent example of how Ericsson’s core technology can contribute to social and economic development. In this case there is a win-win situation: we are enabling the basic human rights of safety, security and economic development, while at the same time the project is supported by a sustainable business case.”

Dawn Haig-Thomas, Director of the GSMA’s Development Fund, says: “Mobile phones and mobile networks have played a critical part in saving countless people’s lives in emergency situations all over the world. The expansion of coverage across Lake Victoria will extend this important lifeline to the thousands of people who depend on the lake for a living.”

Notes to editors:

* Ericsson’s hybrid power solution combines diesel with battery technology. Traditional off-grid diesel solutions consist of two diesel generators working alternately. With Ericsson’s new hybrid energy solution, one of these diesel generators is replaced by a battery bank with specially-designed batteries that can handle a large amount of charges and discharges.

** “The Digital Provide: Information (technology), market performance and welfare in the South Indian fisheries sector”, by Robert Jensen. Published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 2007.

More information on Ericsson’s work in the area of Corporate Responsibility

About the GSMA:

The GSM Association (GSMA) is the global trade association representing more than 700 GSM mobile phone operators across 218 countries and territories of the world. In addition, more than 200 manufacturers and suppliers support the Association’s initiatives as key partners. The primary goals of the GSMA are to ensure mobile phones and wireless services work globally and are easily accessible, enhancing their value to individual customers and national economies, while creating new business opportunities for operators and their suppliers. The Association’s members serve more than 2.5 billion customers – 85% of the world’s mobile phone users.

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