Boosting the signal in Somalia

Amos, WFP telecommunications specialist, installs the GSM booster in Galkayo, Somalia.

Amos, WFP telecommunications specialist, installs the GSM booster in Galkayo, Somalia.

Challenges are an everyday business when working in environments such as Somalia. So we need to be more and more creative in finding tailor-made solutions for unusual problems.

In Somalia, the mKormeer (mVAM)* team doesn’t want to just collect data but also get information back to vulnerable people. So last year we set up a helpline service that beneficiaries can call to ask questions and leave feedback on WFP programs. The system also includes an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) machine to receive beneficiaries’ calls after 5pm or on the weekends. When beneficiaries call, they are directed to prerecorded voice messages and can choose to record their feedback or listen to information, by pressing the numbers on their phone’s keypad.

When we started, we faced the problem of ‘rival’ Mobile Network providers, which don’t allow for inter-carrier phone calls and SMS transmissions. To overcome this challenge we configured our IVR modem to ‘intelligently’ detect what network a number belongs to and route the call through the correct SIM card (see our blog entry here).

Last month, we ran into a new problem: just when incoming calls to the helpline service began to substantially increase (the operators receive more than 400 incoming calls a month), they noticed that a very low phone signal was preventing many calls from coming through the IVR machine.

Our IT colleagues that faced the same problem in Mogadishu, gave us an idea. When faced with a weak phone signal in their offices, they installed a GSM booster (a device that boosts cell phone reception in a given area by using a signal amplifier, an antenna and an internal rebroadcast antenna). So, they thought, why not also try this solution to boost the signal in Galkayo. They bought a GSM booster for few hundred dollars and installed it near the office. The phone signal improved (from an average of -91dBm to -60dBm) and substantially increased the quantity and quality of incoming calls.

Hopefully from now on everybody calling WFP, whether during office hours, after five, or on the weekends, will be able to communicate with us and leave their feedback!

Signal status of our IVR modem after the installation of the GSM booster.

Signal status of our IVR modem after the installation of the GSM booster.

mKormeer scale-up

WFP Somalia began using voice calls for short food security surveys in May 2014 with a modest pilot that involved calling 300 IDP households a month in central Somalia. Now, each month, the office receives around 400 incoming calls, conducts an average of 1400 mobile food security surveys, and sends out around 4000 SMS notifications to beneficiaries. The mKormeer system is helping WFP monitor food security and evaluate the effectiveness of its programs.

All this was made possible by hard-working colleagues in Nairobi and Galkayo, a great team of phone operators, and a grant from the Cisco foundation.

*mKormeer is the name of the mVAM project in Somalia. ‘Kormeer’ is Somali and means ‘Monitoring’.

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