Radios. Batteries. Solar. Implications

Things rarely stand still in the mobile world, but a number of fairly significant announcements have been made in the past few days alone, many of which have significant short- and long-term implications for mobile users in developing countries. Here’s the top three which caught my eye.

#1 Radio

The powerful combination of rural radio and mobile phones – text messaging in particular – continues to attract considerable attention in the ICT4D world, and rightly so. Radio still has the widest reach of any communications medium, and mobile phones present new opportunities to enrich the user experience. It comes as no surprise to see Nokia leading the way once again, yesterday announcing the launch of the new Nokia 5030 handset.

Nokia 5030 kit

According to Nokia’s official Press Release:

The Nokia 5030 is the company’s first phone with an internal FM radio antenna, which eliminates the need for a headset or external speakers. The one touch FM radio and channel selection keys on the side of the device ensure the product lives up to its XpressRadio name. Placed sideways on the table, the Nokia 5030 doubles as a portable FM radio and is ideal for emerging markets, where people rely on a radio as their main source of entertainment and news. The Nokia 5030 has up to a day of listening time and 10 hours of talk time, which comes to life with the powerful loudspeaker. The Nokia 5030 is expected to begin shipping in the second quarter of 2009 with an estimated retail price of less than 40 Euros [about $50]

[For further radio-related information check out White African’s recent post on radio in Liberia, Bill Siemering’s Developing Radio Partners, Farm Radio International and my recent PC World article – “Mobile Phones Join the Rural Radio Mix“]

#2 Batteries

Also yesterday, the BBC reported news of a “new manufacturing method for lithium-ion batteries could lead to smaller, lighter batteries that can be charged in just seconds”.

BBC headline

The implications for fast-charge batteries in parts of the developing world where regular, reliable mains electricity is a challenge are obvious, not to mention the financial savings to the user (and the potential environmental gains). What’s more, connect these to solar or wind chargers and a process which may have previously taken an hour or more might well be reduced to just minutes. Because the changes needed to the manufacturing process to make these ‘super batteries’ are minimal, there are hopes that they could be brought to market as soon as 2011.

#3 Solar

Solar panel - Credit: Peng Wang, Chinese Academy of Sciences And today, MIT’s Technology Review reported on a new kind of dye-sensitised solar cell – one that is more efficient, cheaper and durable than existing cells. According to Chinese Academy of Sciences professor Peng Wang, “at the moment, the use of toxic and volatile solvents in high-efficiency cells is a big hurdle for the large-scale application of dye-sensitized solar cells”. The use of a different type of electrolyte has allowed Wang and his team to produce a more robust solar cell which can prevent evaporation and leaking at high temperatures. And because the liquid can also be used with plastic, it excitingly opens up the possibility of flexible solar panels.

Three separate announcements, each with their own implications for the developing world. Maybe it won’t be long before we see mobiles powered by new kinds of super-batteries charged by more efficient, cheaper and accessible solar cells.

It doesn’t seem far off, not from where I’m standing, at least, and not if the announcements of the past couple of days are anything to go by.

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