Ericsson partners with Zain

Telecommunication equipment provider Ericsson and African mobile service provider Zain are working together to stimulate demand for mobile-phone services and connect thousands of people in rural areas in Africa.

The companies will provide network access, mobile-phone handsets, SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards and toll-free emergency numbers to rural areas as part of the project. Most mobile service providers in Africa are unwilling to expand rural areas, claiming high operational costs and leaving millions of people unconnected and cut off from the rest of the world.

Ericsson and Zain hope to connect more that 400,000 people across Africa and boost Zain's subscription base in the region. Zain operates in the Middle East and Africa and has more than 27 million customers in the African region. The new approach taken by Ericsson and Zain will first be rolled out in East Africa, including Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Zain has a presence in 15 African countries, including Zambia, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya.

Ericsson will provide network connectivity in the identified areas. Zain will provide SIM cards and airtime, while Sony Ericsson will provide the handsets.

"The services will first be introduced to health workers, teachers, agriculture extension officers and other social workers," Ericsson President Carl-Henri Svanberge said recently.

Currently, the program is being carried out free as a pilot project. After the demand for mobile phones increases, the program will be commercialized and the handsets, SIM cards and airtime will no longer be free. The network connectivity will provide voice and data services. As most rural areas in Africa are not connected to the national grid, phones will use solar chargers.

In March, Nokia Siemens launched a similar initiative, dubbed Nokia Siemens Networks Village Connection, and is working with mobile service providers to offer low-cost communications services to rural African communities.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.