Sunday, August 24, 2008

M-learning and mobile Internet access in Tanzania

Yesterday we did some simple tests on accessibility to mobile Internet and the cost of using this service in Tanzania. I used a Nokia 6220 classic mobile phone with a Vodacom prepaid card. On the about 200 km road from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro, where we visited a Teacher Education College, I now and then checked the accessibility of mobile Internet and browsed some web pages. Only at one occasion I got the message “no packet switching network available”, at all other occasions Internet access was available. The cost of a 4-5 minutes “websurf”, checking the news from (a Swedish newspaper) with text and some pictures, was about 30-40 Tanzanian shillings.

I connected to Internet 10 to 15 times without any problems. I also downloaded a 1.7 megabytes MP3-file. The MP3 file, a speech synthesized webpage with about 5 minutes of voice, then was played on the mobile phone with good audio quality. Today we did the same type of tests on the roads to south of Dar, we didn’t go very far, but Internet access was OK all the way.

A coverage map for Vodacom is available on

However, on in this map the Morogoro road is without coverage, the situation seems to be better then what is described on the map.

The coverage map describes general mobile phone access, but according to the page

GPRS access is available wherever there is mobile phone access.

“Vodacom Tanzania offers 3G HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) coverage in Dar-Es-Salaam, Arusha & Dodoma and a high quality EDGE/GPRS network nationwide. Video Call is exclusively available under 3G HSDPA, while MMS and Internet / WAP are accessible under GPRS. When out of a 3G area, your connection moves seamlessly into EDGE/GPRS.”

Tariffs for Vodacom's 3G / GPRS services are not very easy to understand, but a cost of 200 Tanzanian shillings per MB is mentioned at the webpage

What are the possible conclusions for m-learning in Tanzania of these tests and the material at the Vodacom webpage? More information is needed!

The first question is the coverage, one has to get up to date maps of the coverage from different mobile phone operators and compare it with the map of how the population in Tanzania is distributed.

The second question is the cost, on the Vodacom website 200 Tanzanian shillings per megabyte is mentioned. In Dar I downloaded a 1.1 megabyte file to the cost of 330 Tanzanian shilling which is somewhat more expensive. Is this cost acceptable?

The third question is the download time. The 1.1 megabytes were downloaded in 20 seconds which is about 400 kbs, in Dar 3G is available. With GPRS a bandwidth of about 100 kb/s can be expected, the time to load 1 megabyte of material would be about 1 minute. Will learning material take to long time to download?

Even though more information is needed I think the conclusion is that the 3G / GPRS –services has a potential for distributing learning material and for other m-learning functions. If I understand the information on the Vodacom web page correct, GPRS access to Internet is available everywhere where there access to normal voice services. But of course, to be able to use these services students should have access to 3G / GPRS phones with possibilities to present video and voice.



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Omar said...

I was in a presentation a few weeks ago in which Vodacom and Nokia were collaborating to offer mobile based educational content to remote schools. The Project 'BrigeIT' uses a Nokia N95 and a TV set on the client side. A teacher is able to send an SMS to request material and a file is downloaded to the phone on such a request. This multi media file can be played back on the TV set. There are still some issues on energy that the project is grappling with.

I would rather have had a local PC or Server on the client side which could store downloaded Files for the school to reuse whenever it wants. However the really exciting thing about the project is that Vodacom offered the service (data transfer) free of charge and that it is essentially material from a local and not international server, using the terrestrial infrastructure. It would be a good idea to ask Vodacom or any of the other oppreators to give you the same kind of deal or starkly reduced prices for your project.

All in all Mobile is the way to go as long as you dont have a really extensive fiber optic network available. that can take another ten years if we are lucky. We cant wait that long.

Omar Mzee

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