The eagerly awaited Freedom Fone Version 2.0 has been released this March 2011. The innovative platform, initiated by The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe and funded by The Knight News Challenge, was inspired by the desire to reach out to the burgeoning number of ordinary mobile phone users in developing countries. The all-women management team of information activists from Harare, Zimbabwe, came up with the concept in response to the frustrations of trying to communicate in a highly controlled media landscape, where 90% of the population does not have Internet access.

There has been a great deal of hype recently around the power of social media particularly in revolutionary and crisis scenarios. Freedom Fone offers a powerful, alternative tool to social media, in contexts where the vast majority of the population do not have smartphones and are not online or who are illiterate. Freedom Fone makes it easy to build interactive, two-way, phone based information-on-demand services using audio voice menus, voice messages, SMS and polls. The DIY platform is accessible, user-friendly, low-cost, global and does not require Internet access for users and callers alike. It takes advantage of audio to address language and literacy barriers when reaching out to the millions of people living on the margins of the information society.

Thus Freedom Fone is a suitable technology for many NGOs and service organizations to communicate critical information with offline or illiterate constituencies. The poll functionality can be used to conduct research. It facilitates two-way communication as callers can leave audio voice messages and SMS texts. Radio stations are particularly well suited to using Freedom Fone, as they are accustomed to writing scripts and producing audio content. In addition the platform makes it possible for journalists and citizen reporters to discreetly file audio reports from the field.

Notable Improvements

Version 2.0 has many notable improvements, including nested menu functionality, making it much easier for users to build multilingual voice menus. This version also includes native support for the Office Route, a highly recommended 4-sim GSM SIP gateway that handles voice and SMS. Read more about version 2.0’s improved functionality here. The free open source software is available for download from our website. Alternatively test the software with the online demo. A community forum has been built for users to ask questions and share user experiences. DVDs can be mailed to organizations with bandwidth constraints.

Freedom Fone has established a wide local and international network of followers. During 2010 there were 1616 downloads of earlier releases of the free software. Deployment uses of Freedom Fone include:

  • Edutainment, with a micro audio drama which deals with sexual harassment in Zimbabwe
  • Agriculture related information in Tanzania and Ghana
  • Community radio stations as alternative and complementary communication channels in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ghana
  • Election monitoring for the public to report election violations during parliamentary elections in Egypt
  • Youth life skills and education in engaging, entertaining audio formats in Cambodia
  • Rape and gender based violence information in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Monitoring corruption at road blocks in Tanzania
  • Constitution making process to engage the public in Zimbabwe

Freedom Fone is based on the FreeSWITCH telephony platform and the CakePHP development framework and is currently being built by the renowned development team, IT46 in Sweden. For more on the development see the development wiki and Developers Guide for Version 2.0.

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