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Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 11:16 UK

Uganda gets free Google text tips

Mobile-phone user, generic
Millions of Ugandans have mobile phones but no internet

A mobile-phone service has been set up in Uganda to give people weather forecasts, farming advice and health information through text messages.

US internet firm Google and the Grameen Foundation charity set up the project, which they say will help ease poverty.

Google says the scheme could help about nine million Ugandans who have mobile phones but are without internet access.

Similar projects have already been launched in Ghana and Kenya, but on a much smaller scale.

The Ugandan scheme is available only to those using the MTN network.

They send a text message free of charge, and receive information back in a text message.

The BBC's Joshua Mmali, in Kampala, says there are still challenges the programme developers have to overcome.

Some of the answers the service users receive are either ambiguous, or do not offer the solutions they expect, our correspondent says.

Overcoming embarrassment

But one Ugandan woman told the BBC the service, which has been piloted in recent months, had helped her talk to her daughters about sex.

"I used to get embarrassed every time I sat with my daughters to talk to them about pregnancy," said Amina Nantume.

We are hoping to reach people in rural and disadvantaged communities
Noel Meier
MTN chief executive

But now she send any awkward questions to Google and passes the answers on.

Grameen Foundation's president Alex Counts said the launch came after extensive research in Uganda.

"We are excited to take the next big step - going from an innovative product development approach to scaling proven and sustainable applications across Uganda for the benefit of the poor and poorest," he said.

MTN said they hoped the new services would be the first of many.

"We are hoping to reach people in rural and disadvantaged communities while we build up a new line of business for the company," said the network's Noel Meier.

Google said the new scheme would consist of five applications providing health and agricultural information and a virtual marketplace for buying and selling goods and services.

Another service, Google SMS Tips, would allow a mobile-phone user to have a web search-like experience, the internet firm said.

A user enters a text query and Google returns relevant answers after searching a database.



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