Vodafone offers portable mobile-phone chargers to Tanzania’s 'off-grid’ users

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The mobile phone giant is set to save its Tanzanian customers money with portable chargers powered by a bicycle dynamo or a solar panel, reports Katherine Rushton.

While mobile phone customers in the West often hang up to stop their bills from spiralling out of control, users in sub-Saharan Africa are unable to make calls for an altogether different reason.

Tens of millions of people in rural areas have mobile phone handsets, but are effectively barred from using them because they have nowhere handy to charge them.

Around 600m mobile phone users living “off-grid” spend $10bn (£6.45bn) a year travelling to somewhere so they can charge them, or powering their handsets with car batteries.

But now Vodafone (LSE: VOD.L - news) , the mobile phone giant, has a simpler plan to tackle the issue. The company is launching portable chargers across Tanzania, which can be powered by a bicycle dynamo or a solar panel.

The Ready Set chargers are to be made available this month, in a move aimed at boosting Vodafone’s profits in the rapidly growing market.

In a pilot scheme last year, customers with access to a ReadySet charger spent an average of 14pc more on their mobile phones than previously.

The portable chargers will be sold, for example through the shops and sales people who already sell mobile phone credit and sim cards. The ReadySet chargers used in the pilot scheme had a handle which vendors could use to carry the devices. However, so many sales people transported the portable chargers on their heads that Vodafone has now redesigned them with a comfortable curved base instead.

Tanzania is already one of Vodafone’s fastest-growing markets, as millions of people who have never had a landline telephone opt straight for mobiles instead effectively “skipping” a stage of development.

It is also one of the most advanced markets for mobile phone payments, as millions of people who have never had a bank account use their mobiles to save money or send secure payments.

Around a quarter of Tanzania’s GDP now goes through the mobile payments scheme, operated by Vodafone.