Brenda Burrell

Freedom Fone Project Status

Hi Everyone..

So, an update on where we're at with the Freedom Fone project.

As you can imagine with a new project, development on the code base was pretty much non stop 2009-2014. Slowly but surely we built out a free, open source Do It Yourself IVR/SMS solution that was phone agnostic and independent of the Internet. It dramatically reduced (but did not entirely remove) the computer and telephony skills required to set up an information service comprising voice menus, voicemail & SMS services.

Somalia: OCHA founded radio station turns words into action

To strengthen its interaction with affected communities, Radio Ergo has partnered with Freedom Fone, to better capture feedback via SMS and voice messaging. The service has been receiving on average 40-50 messages daily since its inception in May 2013.

Read the UNOCHA article on Radio Ergo's work at:

The Kenyan elections - views from a taxi cab

Visiting Kenya a few weeks before their March 2013 elections I took advantage of the long delays on Nairobi's congested roads to chat to our taxi drivers about their opinions regarding preparations for the elections and the presidential candidates contesting it. They shared their thoughts willingly and not unsurprisingly had different perspectives.

Freedom Fone takes off in Nairobi

Today Tina and I were scheduled to fly back to Harare from Nairobi. We’d had a busy, productive few days: interviewed staff at 3 organisations currently deploying Freedom Fone, visited communities in the field and installed v2.S.4 with a Huawei dongle for a user whose service had gone down due to a damaged MobiGater.

Things started well enough this morning, getting up in good time to catch our 6.15am taxi to the airport. Only it didn’t arrive as expected…

Our head in The Cloud, our heart in the community

Freedom Fone faces a number of challenges in 2013 as it transitions from a donor funded development model to a community supported software project.

Historically, Freedom Fone was developed to help activists quickly set up automated voice menu, voicemail and SMS information services independent of the Internet and with a minimum of reliance on mobile network operators.

Freedom Fone v2.S.4 now available

Freedom Fone v2.S.4 now available.

This version runs on Ubuntu 12.04LTS and supports OfficeRoute SIP devices and Huawei GSM dongles. Huawei E173 and E1550 have been tested. Let us know with what other models of audio enabled Huawei dongles you have success.

MobiGaters can only be supported by modifying the default configuration. Instructions will be uploaded to the website in due course.

There is no upgrade path between v2.S.2 and v2.S.4.


Malawi training goes well

Freedom Fone trainers, Bren & Tich, traveled up by road this month to run user training in Lilongwe, Malawi. It’s a day’s drive that takes you through Nyamapanda, Zimbabwe’s north east border post with Mozambique, then through Tete province and later through the Dedza border post with Malawi. Much of the road through Tete is littered with potholes and besides the city of Tete, there’s not a lot in the way of service stations to help you out if you hit trouble. The good news is that the border posts are well managed and the traffic fairly light.

Of charcoal and potholes – the road from Harare to Lilongwe via Tete

2 borders, 2 temporary import permits, 2 car insurance licences, 3 currencies, 10-12 hours and countless bags of charcoal lie between Harare and Lilongwe if you travel by road. Tich and I are on this road trip because Air Malawi have canceled their flights between Harare & Lilongwe and we have a training workshop to run before the end of the month.

Congrats to African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC) finalists

OK, so there are still some hurdles to jump before the 40 finalists in the inaugural African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC) are whittled down to the 20 or so winners in this prestigious competition. Still, the next round should be really productive and interesting as the finalists meet in Zanzibar to work on their pitches and products ahead of the November 10 announcement of winners in Dakar later this year.

Our Unreasonable Preparation

I'm in a very different head space at the moment and I've got close friends at Kubatana– Bev & Amanda– to thank. This past month has been an amazing collaboration with them to try and get Freedom Fone onto the Unreasonable at Sea voyage next year. They have made a remarkable effort, and in response to their challenge I feel like parts of me have come alive again. It's been part business boot camp, part market research and a large chunk of personal reflection.

Freedom Fone's Dialer version used to facilitate feedback in Zimbabwe

As part of the Quality Assurance testing of Freedom Fone's new Dialer version, Kubatana engaged citizens in Zimbabwe around the thorny issue of billing by the country's sole energy supplier - the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC).

Radio 5 hosts Freedom Fone Fighters in Arusha

Bart Sullivan is affectionately known as 'Captain' by the team of ICT officers who work at Farm Radio International's regional offices in Ghana, Malawi, Ethiopia and Tanzania. In my eyes, Bart earned his stripes today when he pulled off an audacious first for Freedom Fone and Farm Radio at Radio 5, a busy commercial radio station in Arusha's Njiro suburb. All round nice guy, Bart is also sharp and innovative... and as this story shows, very persuasive too.

Radio 5 combi

Arusha Training for Freedom Fone Technical Administrators

Tich Siguake and I arrived in Arusha on the weekend to prepare for the start of our training workshop for ICT officers at Farm Radio International's HQ in Tanzania. We flew in to the exotic sounding Kilimanjaro airport at about 7pm where we were met by FRI's ICT and Radio Specialist, Bart Sullivan.

Tunisian TV station head fined for airing 'Persepolis' animated film

Persepolis graphicMedia practitioners and activists gathered in Tunis for World Press Freedom Day were shocked to hear that Nabil Karoui, head of Nessma television station, has been fined for broadcasting 'Persepolis' the award-winning Franco-Iranian film about a child's account of the Iranian revolution.

Karoui was prosecuted for broadcasting the film on TV even though it had previously been approved for distribution in cinemas.

Activism, civil society and new media

Old hopes are still alive in some quarters that Information Technologies (IT) are the magic bullet for development and social change. This sentiment has been most obvious amongst commentators who suggest that the successes of the 2011 Arab Spring were built upon new media in the form of Twitter and Facebook. Hard working grassroots activists in Egypt and Tunisia have been quick to challenge these assumptions.

Tanzania revisited - more training in Dar es Salaam

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.

Community Radio and the mobile phone

The AMARC10 conference held in November 2010 in La Plata, Buenos Aires brought together a colourful cross-section of people, places and passions. Plenary sessions provided a platform for theory, philosophy and utopian imagining. Workshops rooted the conference in the real world of illiteracy, intolerance, poverty, crisis, community, co-operation and hope.

Community Radio Stations at AMARC10 positive about Freedom Fone

A big up to Farm Radio International's Nelly Bassily, for helping Freedom Fone to squeeze a workshop into the busy agenda at AMARC10 in La Plata, Buenos Aires today.

Nelly's networking and linguistic prowess delivered a meeting room equipped with projector and professional simultaneous translation in Spanish. She handily filled the role of impromptu simultaneous French translator, making it possible for many more people to follow my presentation.

Workshop challenges in Bulawayo

In late May, Amy & I went down to Bulawayo to run a hands-on Freedom Fone training workshop for 11 participants based in Zimbabwe's City of Skies. The workshop was hosted there by a vibrant community radio station called Radio Dialogue. That will sound like a contradiction in terms as Zimbabwe has yet to award a broadcast licence to any community radio station in the country.

Making sense of all the noise – testing Freedom Fone v1.5pre

I've spent time recently testing the pre-release version 1.5 of Freedom Fone in Zimbabwe. Lots of little bugs have presented themselves but for the most part this version has been a revelation. The closest tech support has been Alberto in freezing Stockholm and Giovanni somewhere in Italy. I am sweating it out in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Free Kiswahili synthetic voice for Freedom Fone a possibility

Freedom Fone's ability to fulfill it's promise as a must have tool for bridging the digital divide has yet to be determined. Millions of poor people have access to mobile phones, but with tariffs as high as they are in countries like Zimbabwe, experimentation in this field is still costly. And of course, for our project these are early days.

Molo and Kubatana's partnership helps put information in the hands of Zimbabweans

Kubatana, a Zimbabwean non-profit organisation committed to democratising access to information, was awarded a Knight News Challenge grant in May 2008 for its Freedom Fone software development project. The Freedom Fone project aspires to help civic organisations extend their information in an audio format to mobile phone users.

How does FreeSWITCH compare to Asterisk?

Open source telephony platform, Asterisk, has been used for years as an inexpensive alternative to proprietry PBXs, democratising this previously closed service industry. Why then did Freedom Fone choose to use FreeSWITCH as its telephony component instead of Asterisk? Our Project Architect, Alberto Escudero Pascual, will answer that question in the new year, but until then clues lie in this comment from Telecom Monthly: