Sunday, August 12, 2007

Building big, starting small by Ethan Zuckerman

A radical new way for poor countries to get the phones, power, and roads they need

IN 1997, IN the midst of a vicious civil war that was tearing apart the Democratic Republic of Congo, entrepreneur Alieu Conteh decided it was time to build the country's first mobile-phone network.

The odds were stacked against him: He couldn't get equipment or loans. The handsets cost too much. He hired welders to build towers, one by one, out of scrap metal.

Now his phone network is the most important piece of infrastructure in the country, the only way most Congolese can communicate with their neighbors and with the wider world. Conteh's company, CWN, grew into Vodacom Congo, with 3 million mobile phone users and a market valuation of $1.6 billion.


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