MTN to deal out free Fenix batteries to charge phones in rural Uganda

Uganda’s telephone network operator MTN Uganda has partnered with portable lead acid battery manufacturer Fenix to enable the country’s off-grid community charge [their] cellphones.

MTN has since shipped more than 2,000 Fenix batteries set for distribution to its clients. The Fenix batteries, branded ReadySet, have all the extensions to charge phones, lights, fans, TVs and other electronic items in the home.

Fenix CEO Michael Lin said the battery manufacturer is “mostly targeting entrepreneurs in countries without electricity who mostly use car batteries to charge phones and watch TV.”

One Fenix battery can be used to charge about 50 cell phones a week, and can last up to three years. The batteries also come with power generation options like a bike generator of up to 100 watts, and a solar panel of 15 watts, says Fenix.

The chargers have a protective casing for safe use in homes and go for around US$150.

Sources from MTN say the service which has been on pilot in the country since February is aimed at small business people in the country and a line of their mobile money agents who at times offer extended mobile phone services like charging and repair. Currently, there are about 3,000 mobile money agents in the country.

Lin said the US$150 looks pretty high for consumers in the developing world. He however says the firm is aiming at entrepreneurs in the country and will soon extend the serviced to a number of other developing countries. About 2.5 percent of the populations of these villages is some kind of entrepreneur.

Fenix has decided to partner with the major telcos and non-profits in the developing world to distribute its products.Fenix claims there are over 1.6 billion people without electricty and they are set to give them power using the ReadySet.

The telcos would benefit from the proliferation of the energy storage devices and distributed cellphone charging, and could white-label the ReadySets with their brands. MTN rebrands the ReadySet for its users and sells them at its retail outlets countrywide.

MTN claims the entrepreneurs can earn up USh100,000 a month and save some USh15,000 on kerosene for lighting.

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