new solar-powered phones

Chipset provider unveils three new handsets; plans to bring solar power to PDAs.

As solar-powered mobile phones gain traction in emerging markets, solar technology firm Intivation is increasing its presence with the launch of three new handsets and has plans to extend into the PDA market in future.

Intivation showcased the first handsets equipped with its chipset technology and a solar panel at Mobile World Congress last year, in conjunction with vendors ZTE and Foxconn.

The first handsets on the market launched in Haiti through Digicel in June last year, with Kenya and Uganda following in July. Intivation has sold 500,000 of its chipsets since then, with around 380,000 handsets “actually sold to consumers and in the market today,” Intivation CEO Paul Naastepad told Total Telecom.

“[We are working with] 11 operators in eight countries in just six months,” he added. And in that time, “we [have] learnt a couple of things.”

Naastepad admits that one key feature was missing from the phone it has taken to market in Africa.

“It must have a torch,” he said, a vital feature in a market that lacks access to reliable power sources.

As a result, one of the handsets introduced at Mobile World Congress this year is a replacement for that ZTE phone, this time with a torch included.

The firm is also introducing a new handset with video functionality for more advanced markets, and a low-end device geared towards India.

The decision to add video capabilities stemmed from a lesson learned in the Philippines, where Intivation discovered that having a camera on a mobile phone is a must. More than 90% of all mobile phones in the Philippines have cameras, Naastepad explained.

“We are going up-market with the phones,” he said.

However, the company is also focusing on mass-markets, with its ultra-low-cost handset aimed at India, where there is still huge price pressure and growth potential. It is also looking at China.

In addition to launching new handsets, Intivation also unveiled two solar-powered phone chargers, primarily to enable operators to offer their existing, non-solar handsets, in areas where grid power is scarce or non-existent.

Intivation has ambitious plans for the coming years.

In the 2010-2011 period “[we will] look at those PDA-type phones. We’re also going to solar power those,” Naastepad said.

However, these devices will use solar power in addition to standard mains charging. The idea is help users increase their talk and standby time when they have forgotten to charge their phone in the standard way, for example.

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