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Zain, Ericsson and GSMA combine to save lives on Lake Victoria and boost local economy

The 200,000 fisherman that work on Lake Victoria will soon be using mobile phones to call for help if they get into trouble on the world's second largest inland lake. Pan-Africa mobile operator Celtel (a subsidiary of Zain) along with Ericsson, and in an initiative coordinated by the GSMA's Development Fund, have committed to extend the mobile networks across the Lake Victoria region, fuelling economic and social development of the lakeside communities and potentially reducing the number of fishing-related deaths each year.

Zain and Ericsson are upgrading Celtel's existing infrastructure and building an additional 21 radio sites to provide mobile coverage up to 20 km into the lake. This will take about six months and ensure mobile coverage to over 90% of the fishing zones, where up to 5,000 people die each year from accidents and piracy. The project will use Ericsson's Extended Range software package to more than double the effective range of radio base stations as well as Ericsson's Mobile Position System, a location-based service that enables emergency authorities to triangulate the mobile signal of fishermen in distress. Ericsson's green-site solutions, including solar and hybrid power solutions, will also provide electric power to the base stations in the more remote island areas.

The GSMA and Zain are working with the governments in the region and not-for-profit groups to establish a rescue coordination service to provide assistance to lake users, which in the longer term will be run by the EAC's planned Regional Maritime Communications Centre (RMCC). This initiative is helping to fulfill the objectives of the EAC Lake Victoria communications strategy, which was adopted in 2007. Ericsson, Zain and the GSMA's Development Fund have spent the past six months investigating how to provide better communications for the 30 million people in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda who live in the immediate vicinity of the lake. The move to extend the region's mobile network reflects the companies' commitment to corporate responsibility and to improving lives through communication, and is supported by a solid business case based on increased subscriber numbers and a higher volume of data traffic, thereby ensuring the sustainability of the project. Zain also plans to provide value-added services, such as up-to-the-minute market prices, which will have a significant impact on local people's livelihoods.

Academic research in India found that using mobile phones can significantly boost fishermen's earnings by enabling them to find the best prices for their catch. The availability of mobile services is also expected to benefit the tourism, transportation and fish export industries and could be key to attracting further business development in the region.

Ericsson's hybrid power solution combines diesel with battery technology. Traditional off-grid diesel solutions consist of two diesel generators working alternately. With Ericsson's new hybrid energy solution, one of these diesel generators is replaced by a battery bank with specially-designed batteries that can handle a large amount of charges and discharges.

A key document is "The Digital Provide: Information (technology), market performance and welfare in the South Indian fisheries sector", by Robert Jensen. It was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 2007.

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