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An African telecom embraces off-grid batteries

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Fenix, a startup that makes a plug-n-play, portable, lead-acid battery for off-grid use has shipped about 2,000 of its batteries to African telecom MTN, the company’s CEO Michael Lin tells me. The result is that each battery device enables an entrepreneur in Uganda to charge about 50 cell phones a week or 100,000 cell phones in total.

Fenix’s battery device is called the ReadySet (see photo), and it comes in a protective casing, with all the basic connectors for charging devices like cell phones, lights, fans and TVs. The ReadySet has a set of smart circuitry that enables the battery to last up to three years (2 years longer than many of the car batteries that are being used in the ecosystem) and it also comes with power generation options, like a bike generator (up to 100 watt hours) and a solar panel (15 watt hours), which can recharge the battery with clean power.

The ReadySet, which cost around $150 when it was initially launched, is targeting an off-grid market of  entrepreneurs that commonly use junky car batteries to charge villager’s cell phones. For the about 2.6 billion people in the world who don’t have regular access to grid power, an ad-hoc economy has emerged around these car batteries. The ReadySet is a more long lasting, better designed and safer version of the car battery.

Around $150 is still pretty high for a product for the developing world, but Fenix is selling and giving the ReadySet to entrepreneurs that tend to have a little more access to capital than an average consumer is these regions. About 2.5 percent of the populations of these villages is some kind of entrepreneur, Fenix CEO Mike Lin told me in an interview when the company launched.

Fenix has decided to partner with the major telcos in the developing world for distribution, along with other partners like NGOs and service providers, to effectively and economically sell and market its devices. The telcos could benefit from the proliferation of the energy storage devices and distributed cell phone charging, and could white-label the ReadySets with their brands. MTN brands the ReadySet for its users.

3 Responses to “An African telecom embraces off-grid batteries”

  1. Futurebooks

    The casing and plugs and neat. However, I believe the crank method of charging is not an elegant solution. The XO one laptop per child, were laptops targeted at school children in Africa and other remotes parts of the world. They were later shipped with a crank to recharge the battery cell, and failed dismally.

    I think it is dangerous to move product development forward on one hand, and backwards on another level.

    Telcos have been embracing lead acid off-grid batteries for decades. However they have been shipped with solar panels – a much better use of the consumers time.

    There is a misconception that those living in remote areas have lots of time on their hands. The reality could not be further from the truth. Those working in harsh conditions are most often time poor and have less leisure time than populations from developed countries. They are more in need of real solutions – not novel ones.

  2. confused

    umm…more expensive then solar? This is not an energy source, it’s energy storage. It replaces the common use of car batteries (you did read this, right?)