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Mobile technology

Page history last edited by robert.fitzgerald 14 years, 2 months ago

SMS & Mobile Technology Community of Practice



A community to discuss ideas and developments around using mobile phones and text messaging (SMS) to support the work of the production and marketing teams. Our future work will build on work we have completed to date developing the Electronic Marketing Communication Project (EMCS). This project is described in more detail below in an evaluation report written by Steve Gniel.





Dr Fitzgerald has been in regular contact with the developer of FrontlineSMS, Ken Banks. He is the founder of kiwanja.net (http://www.kiwanja.net) and has been working for the last 15 years on the application of mobile technology to support positive social and environmental change in developing countries, especially Africa. He has developed FrontlineSMS (http://www.frontlinesms.com), a field communication system designed for small-scale non-profit organizations. kiwanja.net has been awarded a complimentary membership and invitation to the 2008 Clinton Global Initiative (CGi) annual meeting that was held in New York recently. We have been talking to Ken for some time and in the last few months I have been trialling his system. The plan is to use FrontlineSMS to setup a number of field communication systems as part of the CCPMP project. I would support each system as part of the CCPMP project and while this project is primarily focused on marketing and production goals, there are many opportunities for system to be used in other areas such as rural health information needs (e.g. TB alerts).

NAMA Market Information

Professor Spriggs has written to Mr. Sa Chamroun, Chairman, North-West Agricultural Marketing Association (NAMA) and Manager of the Pailin Grain Silo to report on the workshop and identify three areas for future collaboraton:

  • information – establish an SMS-based market information service
  • export market development
  • operation of the association.

Dr Fitzgerald has sent SMS equipment and software to Greg Secomb with instructions on how to setup a SMS server at the Pailin silo. A meeting is planned with Dr. Rob Fitzgerald, Mr. Greg Secomb, Professor Spriggs and Mr. Sa Chamroun on February 12 or 13. I recently presented some of our ideas for using FrontlineSMS. In February 2009 we will finalise the installation of two SMS servers: one located in Battambag with MJP and the other in Pailin at the NAMA.




Dr Fitzgerald has had preliminary conversations with Stephen Bognar from MJP about setting up an SMS server at the MJP headquarters to facilitate field communications and information needs. This server could be used for a number of purposes including CCPMP production & marketing work, general MJP field communications including health & education work. To enable this the CCPMP marketing team would provide a GSM modem, support to install and configure the SMS server software and training and on-going development. MJP would need to designate a person to work with the Marketing Team and locally manage the SMS server (only basic IT skills are required). They would also provide access to existing basic windows computer (desktop or laptop) and purchase a sim card (e.g. Starcell and/or Mobitel) and meet ongoing sms charges.


SMS-based micro-payment system – we are currently looking at an SMS-based micro-payment system (for payments less than $100) that basically allows a mobile phone user to send small amounts of money to another phone user (http://www.mhits.com.au), akin to an electronic wallet. I have been working with the developer Harold Dimpel over the last few months to work up a proposal for using it in Cambodia. There are number of additional ways we could use it such as each time a farmer attends a field training system they receive a number of points (akin to a professional learning credit) that they can exchange for services or goods at a later time (e.g. Health etc). 


We are getting quite a bit of interest in our sms work in Cambodia using FrontlineSMS.

  1. Ken Banks has written about it in “Cambodian farmers turn to their phone”
  2. MobileActive.org covered it in Frontline SMS Review
  3. Internet & Democracy Project at Harvard University in Frontline SMS Launches New Version, Continues to Foster Change
  4. My presentation in November 2008 to the Northwest Agricultural Marketing Association (Battambang, Cambodia) is getting a number of hits. See: http://www.slideshare.net/rfitzgerald/ccpmp-sms-communications-presentation

New Project (FrontlineSMS)

In our new project we will be using the FrontlineSMS system to support both our production and marketing work. FrontlineSMS is free software that uses a computer (i.e.laptop) and GSM modem (i.e. mobile phone) to create a SMS communications hub. The program enables users to send and receive text messages and allows auto reply services to be created - what we referred to as Information On Demand in our previous work. The following list  is taken directly from the FrontlineSMS website and  details the system's features including:

  • It does not require an Internet connection.
  • It works with your existing plan on all GSM phones, modems and networks.
  • It is laptop-based so it can be used on the road or during power outages.
  • It stores all phone numbers and records all incoming and outgoing messages.
  • All data lives on a local computer, not on servers controlled by someone else.
  • It is scalable. Messages can be sent to individuals or large groups.
  • It enables two-way communication, useful for fieldwork or during surveys.
  • It is easy to install and requires little or no training to use.
  • It can be used anywhere in the world simply by switching the SIM card.


We are excited to be working with FrontlineSMS and we have been talking with the developer, Ken Banks. In September 2008 we will conducting workshops in western Cambodia and begins trials with the software. Check out a recent presentation to see how we have been using SMS in the previous project.





Previous Work (Extract from EMCS Evaluation)


There is a great deal of excitement about the potential for SMS technology to provide marketing information to value chain participants in rural Cambodia. The 85% SMS coverage in Cambodia provides scope to explore use of this technology to assist in real-time communication of market information.  The accessibility of mobile phones and the low cost of sending text messages combined with a simple design, such as EMCS, appeals to participants in a number of agricultural product value chains. 


Development of the EMCS proof of concept as part of ACIAR project [ASEM-2003-012] demonstrated that this type of system can work in the Cambodian context.  The hardware requirements for the system, a GSM modem and a PC (Pentium 3), are readily available and relatively inexpensive.  A propriety software application, Infotxt, was successfully installed as a messaging platform allowing users to access info-on-demand by sending SMS messages.  The main challenges in the establishment of the system were not to do with the specific technology.  Issues around uninterrupted power supply and public IP, taken for granted in other parts of the world, provided challenges for the project team to overcome.


EMCS Technical Overview



Since the establishment of the system, seventy individuals have been added to the EMCS user list including farmers, traders, silo owners and members of chambers of commerce in four Cambodian provinces as well as a number of Ministry of Commerce and Provincial Department of Commerce staff.  Most of the participants in EMCS training and information workshops did not currently use SMS technology.  However, as the system is based on keywords and much of the information received is figures, participants believed that this could be addressed through some general training on using SMS technology combined with specific training on the EMCS. 


Sample keywords



Keyword levels


Data from the EMCS suggest that value chain participants and administrators are not only interested in the system but also keen to use it.  There were almost 1000 text messages sent via the EMCS from August, 2007 to February, 2008.  This included the use of the 39 keywords used to retrieve specific information from the database.  Also, during this period, the price information collector began using the EMCS to collect data - 'Hello,Charya give me price of the Maize,soybean,casava .Please .Thankyou.many’ (EMCS message, October, 2007).


Messages sent


Responsibility for the server and the data gathering and data inputting became a major issue towards the end of the project.  Due to restructuring of the Ministry of Commerce, the EMCS server was moved a number of times and responsibility for provision of price information to be used on the EMCS database was an issue.  Two key project personnel, Mr Un Buntha and Ms Man Many, were both promoted towards the end of the project out of the trade promotions area.  Despite providing training to the Ministry of Commerce staff assuming responsibility for the EMCS, the system was not operational for a period of time.  This resulted in a letter being presented to the Ministry of Commerce about future directions for the EMCS server.


There are a number of challenges to be overcome in the next stage of development of the EMCS.  The quality of the market information is essential to the ongoing relevance of the system.  During this project quality information was provided through the dedication of Ms Man Many, however the long term sustainability of the system will rely on determining processes for gathering and inputting price information that is not reliant on an individual.  The cost of providing the EMCS services became more of an issue once it was obvious that there was demand for the information.  In particular, the cost of the return SMS messages from the EMCS server became the subject of much discussion.  The cost of an individual SMS message is very low, about seven cents per message, however, this was raised as an ongoing cost that would need to be covered.  Perhaps the largest ongoing cost is the collection of market information and inputting this information into the EMCS database, an issue that will need to be addressed if the EMCS is to be expanded.




Recommendations for the next stage of development of the EMCS as part of the new ACIAR funded project are:

1.    Explore options for gathering market information and analyse benefits and any possible issues

2.    Design appropriate training on the general use of SMS as well as specific EMCS required skills

3.    Determine suitable locations for the EMCS server/s. 

4.    Explore the possibility of charging for SMS return messages and options for the administration of collecting payments


SMS Resources



FrontlineSMS blog

Database of Mobile Projects



 Sample Information On Demand Message Creation Template.doc



 CAMIP Codes.pdf

 B1 Producer Survey Final (2).doc

 B3 Organizational Profile and Assessment of the AMO FINAL.doc

 B3 DAE Baseline survey report June07 FINAL.doc

 B4 Traders study report_final June 20 (3).doc

 CAMIP AMIS Technology Assessment.doc


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