Wow, it’s hot in Dar, and this is winter in Tanzania. My ankles are swollen and it helps to sleep with a fan on at night. The city seems to be booming...buildings are going up in the city centre, bill boards compete for consumer shillings and the morning rush hour(s) is a force to be reckoned with. The most prominent products for sale are mobile related services – Tigo, Airtel (previously Zain) and Vodacom compete through vibrant advertising for a share of this lucrative market. Thanks to the competition, call and SMS costs have become very affordable in Tanzania. The comparison with tariffs in Zimbabwe is striking.
One of the real pleasures of visiting Tanzania is having the opportunity to work again with Bart Sullivan of Farm Radio International. Bart is our earliest Freedom Fone user and has piloted the platform with radio stations in Tanzania & Ghana. His easy going, thoughtful approach to capacity building and commitment to integrating mobile technologies in the community radio sector has helped to raise Freedom Fone’s profile in this community.
We’ve spent the last few days running a Freedom Fone training workshop for users at the World Family of Radio Maria Training Centre in Mikocheni A. This well organised venue offers simple training and accommodation facilities in a secure, leafy environment that has worked very well for us. I loved waking up to the sound of birds at dawn and a view of the blue sky from my window.
Things have not gone entirely our way. On our first morning we got stuck in the traffic heading out of the city to the wrong destination; and then stuck in the traffic heading back in towards the city to the right destination! An hour and a half after our scheduled arrival at the venue we still had to set up our equipment in preparation for the training. Not an auspicious start.
Early in the first training session we encountered equipment and sim card challenges.
Bart had purchased and registered 6 sim cards from Airtel for our workshop. The first MobiGater we connected to our Freedom Fone server would not receive calls and displayed unexpected and incomplete settings for the sim card we had inserted. However, the card worked fine when inserted into our 4-sim OfficeRoute.
Thankfully Tich, our techie, recalled having seen this problem previously in Zimbabwe and that it was caused when the sim card holder in a MobiGater has a bad connection with the sim card.
Next we identified that 2 out of the 6 new Airtel sims could not detect the DTMF tones emitted when callers enter a selection using the keypad on their mobile phones. We don’t know why this behaviour occurs and need to take this issue up with the mobile network operators for an explanation of the problem. For users, the implications are that you may need to try a number of sim cards from a provider before you identify those which will work with your Freedom Fone IVR.
Participants at the workshop this week have been very positive about Freedom Fone and we look forward to following progress at Daraja and Radio Maria in Dar es Salaam over the next few months.