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Cellphones Communications Technology

Bringing Cell Phones To the Third World 116

An anonymous reader tips a story about Denis O'Brien, a mobile phone entrepreneur whose goal is to spread cell phones throughout third-world countries. Quoting: "...O'Brien keeps pouring money into the world's poorest, most violent countries. His bet: Give phones to the masses and they'll fight your enemies for you. ...In Trinidad & Tobago, where the state mobile phone firm was dragging its feet on connecting Digicel calls to its own customers, O'Brien harangued government officials to speed things up, even phoning one Christmas night to complain. After the launch the state firm started dropping Digicel calls anyway, making its new competitor look bad. O'Brien took his case to the people, taking out ads in T&T's papers listing life 'Before Digicel' and 'After Digicel' and held a press conference. The state firm eventually relented. In its first four months Digicel bagged 600,000 customers and is narrowing the gap now with the state in market share."
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Bringing Cell Phones To the Third World

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  • by bigtallmofo ( 695287 ) * on Saturday August 23, 2008 @08:27AM (#24717671)
    His bet: Give phones to the masses and they'll fight your enemies for you

    I'm not sure I understand this. Do these phones shoot lasers or something?
    • The pen^h^h^hphone is mightier than the sword^wgun.

    • Lasers? Now cell phones have lasers? I just want a phone that makes phone calls.
    • Read the article. When governments tried to shut him down, the phone-toting masses defended him.
    • by dbcad7 ( 771464 )

      I guess they would use them to call in their mortar fire..

      Basically, this a stupid premise.. just as saying if you give them guns they will fight your enemy for you.. chances are just as good they will fight you instead.. and why is the goal to elevate 3rd world countries into fighting machines anyway ?.. why cant you elevate them into a peaceful, high tech society ?

    • Only if you put it on a shark's head :-P

  • If you don't like Michael O'Leary you definitely won't like O'Brien
  • Interesting. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BitterOldGUy ( 1330491 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @08:37AM (#24717729)

    The Caribbean operations backing his bonds just announced US$505 million in operating profit (earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation), double the year-earlier figure, on US$1.6 billion in revenue for the year ended in March.

    And if you subtract the interest, is the company still making a profit? Red flag: mentioning Operating profit as opposed to profit.

    Another red flag: In April O'Brien was in the midst of a five-day, four-country visit (via his Gulfstream G550) to keep tabs on his assets.

    Interesting. A private jet.

    He's in poverty stricken countries. He's grabbing lots of market share as fast as he can with dubious earnings potential (what? will he take a chicken as payment if these poverty stricken folks can't pay?). He's doing all of this with other people's money.

    Does that sound like another business plan we've heard of? Maybe 7 or 8 years ago?

  • "Pouring money"? (Score:3, Informative)

    by kaos07 ( 1113443 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @08:39AM (#24717737)

    The summary makes it out as though he's some kind of philanthropist giving away free phones because of some kind of altruistic motive. But from the article we see:

    "O'Brien has built a US$2.2-billion personal fortune by dominating the mobile business in a dozen poverty-stricken countries (in all, he's in 27 countries and territories)".

    So we have another non-story. The story could be called "Someone else making billions of dollars by tapping into new markets". Even without getting into lengthy debates about the nature and ethics surrounding the modern economic system, it's really drawing a long bow trying to portray this guy as a defender of the third world. Not only because he's only giving them cell phones for god's sake, not like it's medicine or anything, but he's making billions of dollars out of it as well.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MrNaz ( 730548 )

      Mods: This is not a troll.

      I fully agree that there should be no positive light cast on people who are, in the process of filling their own pockets, incidentally trickling benefits down to the people below them.

      Brownie points should be given to people who actively try to help others, and perhaps bring themselves a benefit as a side effect. Those are the people who won't turn around and screw the third world the moment it is deemed more profitable.


    • We absolutely should get into lengthy debates about "the nature and ethics surrounding the modern economic system". The fact that he makes money out of it tells you that people want the phones, and he is successful in delivering them. And yes, people need medicine, but infrastructure is also extremely important, like, you know, phones, so you can talk to somebody who is somewhere else.
    • From the article, it appears he is going into areas where governments enforce a stagnant one-size-fits-all monopoly on communications, and then he offers competition in the form of better coverage, lower prices, and respect for the customer. Unsurprisingly, people are responding in droves.

      As for the tangent topic that he is making money, heaven forbid. If you rob people, then that is bad, but if provide a good or service that people appreciate, and then they show their appreciation by paying you, then th
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kaos07 ( 1113443 )
        They're hardly "Enforcing" a monopoly if an Irishman with an MBA can stroll in and sell some phones.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'll bite - I happen to work for one of the core suppliers for Digicel, and I've been to most of the sites (in both the Caribbean and South Pacific). Yes - he makes billions. Yes, the 3 core technology suppliers (E//, HUA, RKN) make millions each year.

      Guess what - the people in those countries are most grateful. You guys talk about Bell monopolies? Have you ever been to a dot of a country in the SP where whole villages share one phone line? Or in the Caribbean where monopolistic government incumbents c

    • by Renraku ( 518261 )

      Is his name L. Bob Rife? Oh wait, its O'Brien..sounds like Rife, though.

    • by u38cg ( 607297 )
      If you give most people in the third world a choice, they will take a mobile phone over almost anything else of roughly the same value. Instant communication is an economic multiplier, just like decent roads or an efficient courts system. The difference is the free market can supply cell phones and doesn't have to wait on their useless governments. This guy, (like several others you haven't heard about) is doing more for the third world than a lifetime of donating to Save the Children.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I work for the company that supplies all the cellphones for Digicel in the South Pacific and I have to add this as an aside. In PNG Digicel is one of the largest direct and indirect employers and the country and they pay a considerable amount more than the local average wage (which is around 50c US per hour). All the Digicel offices are clean, bright, and have considerable IT resource (better facilities than many companies here in NZ) - working conditions are far and away better than all other local compani

  • Cell phones??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iminplaya ( 723125 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @08:48AM (#24717783) Journal

    It's easier to get a damn cell [] phone [] than it is to get clean water.

    • Maybe this [] would've helped to illustrate my point a bit better. Of course cell phones are much more profitable.

    • by hansraj ( 458504 ) *


      I don't know about the african picture but the one with the indian women says zilch. You don't see the background so all you have is her traditional cloths, and that is somehow supposed to imply that she doesn't have access to drinking water (or atleast that she is very poor?)

      Now, I surely agree that a big chunk of world population is without clean water but are you implying that it is the same population that has trouble finding clear water that is getting cellphones? If yes, I would like proof

      • First, the article is an ad for this guy. Second, priorities. But real needs have no place in the "free" market, do they? And yes, there are quite literally many parts of the world where it's easier to get a cell phone than clean drinking water out of the tap. For instance, Chiapas, Mexico, just about any place in Central America. Proof? Come down for a visit. I'll give you all the proof you need there. And another thing, I see plenty of very poor people wear very nice, locally made clothes. You think they

        • But real needs have no place in the "free" market, do they?

          Of course not. We must keep spending what little we can gather on the false needs created by those in power.

  • 419 text messages on our cellphones...
  • ...the developing countries, too. And then we'll have phone crazies all over the world.

    Next thing, we'll have to be scrawling KASHWAK=NO-FO on walls around the world...
  • Cellphones are extremely wide spread and popular throughout Africa already, this should not be a concern.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Canada ranks last in cellular technology among OECD countries (ie, the "western world"), with the highest prices for voice calls and data.

    Libya has a better cell phone network than Canada does. Yes, Libya.

    Even the CEO of Research in Motion, maker of the blackberry (which is a Canadian company), has said many times that Canada's cell phone networks are holding back progress.

    Why, you ask? That's because Canada has an oligopoly of three large cell phone companies with very little competition between them. Furt

  • by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @09:53AM (#24718179)
    The introduction of cheap cell phones kills any incentive for the government to push any landlines (or upgrade those already existing) outside of the main cities. Without landlines, there's no internet. A good example is is Bali, Indonesia. Bali is one of the most advanced (and richest areas of Indonesia) and yet in many areas just 3 miles outside of the main cities there are no landlines and no internet. There's also very, very spotty cell coverage. If say, you have a small guesthouse or crafts company, there's no way you can advertise or communicate with your customers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Without landlines, there's no internet.

      With 3G, at least here in Finland, we have internet everywhere. I see no reason why this wouldn't be possible in any country with mobile phone infrastructure. Only the mobile phone operators need to be connected to an Internet backbone, that's all.

      • Your towers still need a high-speed local loop if you're serving 3G from them. Nothing like trying to push 50Mb/sec from your phone to the tower, with the tower having a 1.5Mb/sec microwave uplink.
    • The introduction of cheap cell phones kills any incentive for the government to push any landlines (or upgrade those already existing) outside of the main cities. Without landlines, there's no internet.

      Ummm... I think you've got a seriously false assumption:
      that any of those people can afford a computer.

      The cellphones these poor people are buying are the simplest handsets possible. Before that cellphone, the highest tech items these people might have owned is a TV, generator, or a radio/cassette.

      Internet is worth zero to people who cannot access it.
      And you can't subsidize their access with advertising, since the poor can't buy the advertised goods anyway.

    • by bazorg ( 911295 )
      Well, voice calls were invented and in demand before internet access and things worked out OK for most of the Western world for many years. After there is some sort of telecom market, they'll find out what they need next: dial up on GSM, dial up on POTS, ADSL, UMTS, WIMAX, Wifi, carrier pigeons, ...
    • Landline phone technology has been around for over a hundred years. If a country hasn't installed landlines yet, it isn't because cell phones are killing government incentive to install them. The government already lacked incentive to install them long before cell phones ever arrived. If anything, rudimentary Internet access on cell phones should spur the populace to demand faster Internet access, thus providing a greater incentive for the government to install landlines. People don't know to ask for so
  • I've done extensive work on cellular delivery in some of the world's poorest places - Niger, CAR and Guinnea Bissau. In all of them, I found that people would pay whatever it took to have a cell phone, even if that meant no medicine for the kids or no shoes to walk to school in.

    I quit because it made me so sad.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by u38cg ( 607297 )
      And did it occur to you that they might actually have a clearer idea of what might benefit them than you do? Decent, reliable communications are the cornerstone of both civil society and economic growth. They understand that, even if you don't.
      • by Builder ( 103701 )

        Believe me, I have a very clear understanding of what benefits small African communities, possibly better than most people outside of a very few constructive aid groups.

        The use of cell phones is largely status based and many of the users and uses are pure evil. The people making millions off of Africa aren't putting very much of it back into the local economy and a large percentage of the people benefiting from the growth in the cellular industry are from China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia and vari

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.