Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chinese Group Offers Low-Cost Solar-Powered Phone

The Austrailian/Adam Plowright/February 18, 2009

Chinese group ZTE unveiled the world's first low-cost solar-powered mobile phone targeted at the world's poor today, which is to go on sale in June for under $US40.

ZTE has partnered with emerging market network operator Digicel, which is to launch the device in Haiti, Samoa and Papua New Guinea and believes sales in the first year will reach "several hundred thousand."

"We estimate in the world there are more than two billion people who have limited or no access to electricity," Wang Yong Zhong, general manager of ZTE mobile handsets, told reporters at industry show Mobile World Congress.

The handset, called Coral-200-Solar, uses Dutch technology to boost the current from a single mini solar panel, which is located on the back of the phone and measures 3.0 centimetres by 7.0.

A charge of one hour in full sunlight would offer 15 minutes of talk time, the companies said, adding that the phone could be charged normally with an electricity supply.

"In our lives (in the rich world), an interruption of power is a nuisance ... but it is infrequent," Digicel executive Tom Bryant said. "But where we conduct business, the absence of power is a daily activity."

He said Digicel, which is active in the Caribbean, Central American and Pacific regions, currently offered small separate solar-powered chargers with handsets in many countries where energy is scarce.

The price would be "less than 40 dollars," Mr Bryant said.

Gavin Byrne, an analyst at telecom research group Informa, pointed to the existence of "charging booths" in some African countries where people pay to plug their phones in for a few hours because they have no electricity at home.

"There is an opportunity for solar-powered phones in emerging markets," he said. "That there are businesses charging up mobiles shows there is a latent demand for a charging device where there isn't a regular supply of power."

Wang said ZTE was in talks with a number of network operators besides Digicell that are interested in distributing the new phone.

"More and more emerging markets need solar products, for example the African market," he said.

The mobile phone industry appears to have embraced the potential of solar power, which could extend phone services to the millions excluded because they have no, or a highly irregular, power supply.

The advance also raises the possibility of other consumer electronic devices being sold cheaply in emerging countries using highly efficient solar technology.

Mr Bryant said the solar panel was about a quarter of the total cost of the 40-dollar device.

South Korean manufacturer Samsung created a buzz at the opening of Mobile World Congress this week by putting its first solar device on display.

Samsung's handset, called Blue Earth, also has a mini solar panel on its back and is to go on sale later this year. It will be expensive, however, and is targeted at "green"-conscious consumers in developed countries.

The Dutch company supplying the technology linking the solar panel to the battery in the ZTE model, Intivation, claimed the Chinese-made device was "twice as effective" as anything else on the market.

The solar panel works in all light conditions, said chief executive Paul Naastepad, who added that the Amsterdam-based group was working with other manufacturers to licence its patented techology.

South Korean manufacturer LG has also put a prototype solar-powered phone on display here, but it has not been named and it not yet ready for market.

See the original article here


  1. yeah, but what is the real value of a solar phone? When are you going to charge it? Leave it on your car dashboard all day?

    The solar charger is useless for most people, who will likely have their phone in their pocket or purse all day...where it won't get charged. then at night, when people typically charge their phone, the solar charge will be useless.

    I feel this is a poorly thought out concept.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Foley!

    I think the idea here is that many rural poor in China don't have reliable access to the power grid and/or land-line phone service. By offering an inexpensive solar-powered cell phone, they offer the potential for rural communities to leapfrog traditional 20th century infrastructure (extremely expensive & time consuming) directly into 21st century wireless capability and renewable energy. Both solar and wireless avoid the need to lay the thousands of miles of power and fiber optic cables that would otherwise be required.

    While I personally see Samsung's new 'Blue Earth' model as 'greenwashing' and slightly gimmicky, ZTE's emphasis on developing a low-cost approach strikes me as what may prove to be an elegant solution to a complex problem.