Nokia research on street charging services in Uganda
Uganda is a country coping with a severe energy crisis resulting in frequent power cuts. In addition, access to mains electricity in rural locations is limited. Given that mobile phones require power, and access to power can be unpredictable – how do people keep their mobile phones and other electrical devices charged? How does people’s behaviour change when there is intermittent or limited access to power? How can we better support users with limited and intermittent access to power?

Jan Chipchase and Indri Tulusan of Nokia Research set out to explore this topic during a July 2006 field study in Uganda as part of a more in-depth study into shared phone use.

There are two forms of mobile phone battery charging services in Kampala – either offered as an additional service by phone kiosk operators or as a stand alone service. It costs 500 Ugandan Shillings (0.2 Euro) to have a battery recharged similar to the price of 2 or 3 phone calls. Whist both services appear to thrive there are a number of barriers to use: customers cannot use their phone whilst the battery is being charged; the customer risks, or perceives the risk that their battery being swapped for an inferior one; a perceived risk of phone theft – signs that suggest service providers are not responsible for loss or theft are evident.

For many Ugandan rural communities with no access to mains power car batteries are the primary means of providing electricity to the home. Businesses such as bars also run off car batteries but they are more likely to have their own power generator. A used car battery costs 30 to 40 dollars and can keep a household powered for a month, though in a bar the same battery might last a week. The homes we visited ran electrical items included radios, CD players, television and domestic lighting.

It can take 3 to 5+ days to have a car battery recharged at the process involves delivering the car-battery to a charging service often tens of kilometers away the nearest town that has mains electricity access. The battery is taken and returned by a trusted and friendly taxi driver or trader. It takes 3 days to charge a battery, longer if the town where the service is based itself experiences power cuts. The cost of charging a battery is around 1,000 Ugandan shillings (0.4 Euro), not including delivery. (As a comparison a mobile phone battery costs half as much to be recharged using one of the mobile phone street charging services mentioned above).

Two short presentations co-authored by Jan Chipchase and Indri Tulusan are available for download from research.nokia.com:
- Power Up: Street Charging Service in KampalaPowerPoint or PDF (3 mb)

- Rural Charging Service, UgandaPowerPoint or PDF (2 mb)