Haiti Gets 1,000 Solar Mobile Phones

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Solar-powered phones could keep aid workers and survivors in touch, despite the lack of basic infrastructure

Solar-powered phones are being sent to Haiti to help earthquake surivivors and aid workers communicate in a country where power and other amenities are disrupted.

One thousand phones will be sent to Haiti by Intivation – the company which makes the solar charger built into the phone, and Digicel – a mobile operator which serves Haiti, along with the Dutch postcode lottery. The solar-powered phones, launched in June 2009, are designed to operate in areas where electric power is unreliable but mobile signals can be provided.

“Good communication is an absolute necessity in disaster relief but Haiti currently has a tremendous power problem, which impedes charging mobile phones,” said Intivation CEO Paul Naastepad. “The mobile network itself still functions in many instances due to backup generators, or it can be repaired much quicker than the electricity grid”.

The phones will be sent to a group of Dutch aid organisations and to Sèvis Finansye Fonkoze (SFF), Haiti’s largest micro-finance institution in Port au Prince, which will distribute the phones through its 37 offices.

Digicel, the largest mobile network operator in the Caribbean, has lost employees and their family members in the current disaster. The company has joined the international effort by tech companies to support the disaster relief: as well as giving $10 million in $5 credits to its one million customers in Haiti, it is using two private planes to transport goods including the solar phones, to Port au Prince.

Once a landing slot has been granted Digicel will ensure that the solar handsets will be delivered to SFF and Cordaid, the group co-ordinating Dutch aid efforts.

Intivation’s solar technology is designed to allow phones to operate exclusively on solar power for use in areas with no electricity. The company says more than half a million of these devices have been sold worldwide in the last six months.

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The international effort to restore Haiti’s infrastructure includes work from Telecoms Sans Frontiere, which is working to restore networks in Port-au-Prince. Google Apple and Microsoft have also contributed help, and OLPC is sending rugged low-cost laptops to the country.