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Madagascan villagers get mobile access

Madagascar is famed for its wildlife, but mobile penetration has historically been low

A new project is offering communications technology services in rural areas of Madagascar that allows individuals to share mobile telephone handsets while maintaining their own private phone numbers and accounts.

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is carrying out the project in partnership with Movirtu and Airtel Madagascar, which allows individuals in the country to log into any handset to access their account for a small fee.  

Unique cloud phone handsets on the Airtel Madagascar mobile network are being provided by entrepreneurial phone operators in villages, who are part of IFC’s Village Phone Program. The village phone links large telecom operators with the local entrepreneurs who sell airtime on the companies’ networks to people in their towns or villages. This helps local entrepreneurs build a viable business, and expand the reach of participating telecoms companies.

The system will allow thousands of people in Madagascar who cannot afford to purchase a handset to make and receive calls more securely, and access text messages, voicemail, and mobile banking.

“This service is important for nearly a billion people in the world, particularly women in rural areas in developing countries,” explained Ramona Liberoff, Movirtu’s EVP for marketing, strategy and planning.

“They can log in and out of any GSM handset that’s on the operator’s network, and they can use it to make calls, send information privately and use mobile banking.”

She added that people in a village in Madagascar can go to their neighbours or friends and borrow their phone. They can log in to their own account from anyone’s phone and access their own services, and neither side is compromised in terms of security.

To log in all a user needs is a code, phone number and pin number.

“The lender of the phone also gets credit when they lend their handset to another user and in these markets there’s often a lot of social pressure for people to share their resources with the community if they have them,” added Liberoff.

The service officially launched in Madagascar in May and will be rolled out to  five more markets by end of the first quarter of next year and even more markets by end of 2012.


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