Veeraraghavan, R., Yasodhar, N., & Toyama, K. (2007). Warana
Unwired: Replacing PCs with Mobile Phones in a Rural Sugarcane Cooperative. International
Conference on Information & Communication Technologies for Development.
We have run an experiment replacing a PC based system for helping a rural sugarcane cooperative with a mobile phone based system. The new mobile system replicates almost all of the PC based functionality, and is cheaper, adds additional functionality and is more popular.
We believe that this is the first project of its kind in developing regions where an entire PC setup has been replaced with mobile phones.
Presentation summarizing the work we did in Warana.
Download the SMS tool kit that powered this work.
Here are more details about the work.
Warana is a village located in Rural India, in the state of
Problems with the existing System:
It is indeed amazing that these kiosks are still running after 8 years after their original installation, it is rare you see rural computing projects running for this long. That said, the PCs were running into many issues due to the rugged rural conditions and the maintenance cost were shooting up steadily. Power is a huge issue in these rural places, and they had UPS backups that would help with it. It costs money to replace them and that also added to the maintenance costs.
Can we preserve the
functionality of the existing PC based system while making the entire system
cheaper and more effective?
We replaced the client PCs with SMS enabled phones. On the server, we attached a smart phone through USB to their PC server. So, we effectively have an SMS gateway that receives incoming SMS messages and converts into database calls and the response was also converted to an SMS message and the result sent back to the phone that sent it. The authentication was through the SIM card (essentially the phone number).
We found that all the application scenarios they had could be converted using the SMS enabled phones. The system is now available 24 hours, and we have farmers using the data on a few occasions at odd times like 3.30 in the morning. The solution is truly mobile and the farmers are using it in places like the tea shops, front of the farmer fields and in the kiosks. In most cases they use the kiosk operator (who is now the phone operator) as the intermediary to send the SMS messages. There is a potential saving of over a million rupees($22,000, which is a big deal in these contexts) if the cooperative completely switched from the PCs to the mobile phones, this is primarily due to the savings from the maintenance costs of the PCs. We are working with the Warana cooperative to see whether they want to scale this to all of the 54 villages they are operating.
We hope this will lead to many more SMS applications throughout the world.
This project was inspired by an
ethnography study that was done as part of a larger study led by Prof. Balaji
at IIIT-Bangalore and Prof. Kenneth Keniston
at MIT to understand the role of IT in agriculture in rural