FrontlineSMS at NetSquared Mobile N2Y4

tags: n2y4, mobile, sms, action

"SMS till you drop" -- mobile phone ad on van in Kampala, Uganda

In addition to the winning project, FrontlineSMS: Medic, the NetSquared Mobile Challenge had several projects that use FrontlineSMS software: FrontlineSMS Alerts and IJ Central were two other finalists.

Several more were centered around SMS messaging, though it was not clear if FrontlineSMS was the software they intended to use.

So what is this FrontlineSMS stuff, exactly? FrontlineSMS software is a SMS switchboard made for the needs of NGOs.

bq. By leveraging basic tools already available to most NGOs – computers and mobile phones – FrontlineSMS enables instantaneous two-way communication on a large scale. It’s easy to implement, simple to operate, and best of all, the software is free.

Being able to send lots of SMS messages without telecom carrier involvement sounds like a Very Good Thing in particular circumstances. Here’s one endorsement from the FrontlineSMS website:

bq. Based in Africa in a country where broadcast technology is controlled by a dictatorial government, this software has enabled me to communicate with the public at large. I am able to run my project without drawing unnecessary attention to myself – a good thing in this neck of the woods. – Anonymous

The FrontlineSMS project is run by Ken Banks and the kiwanja Foundation, with funding by the Hewlett Foundation, MacArthur and the Open Society Institute.

It’s not clear to me whether FrontlineSMS is open source. The software is free to use – for NGOs at least – but one must fill out a form before download. -I’ve seen mention that the project would go open source sometime this spring, though I could find no indication that the code has been released just yet.- The code seems to be written in Java.

Update 2 Jun: The source code is available at the FrontlineSMS project on sourceforge, licensed under the LGPL.

Here’s more about the software:

Many thanks to the funders and team behind FrontlineSMS. The software’s existence means that these NetSquared projects can focus on the task at hand – improving agriculture or medical care – not on taking apart cell phones. Opening up the FrontlineSMS source code should make the software that much more accessible – and let volunteers make it work on different types of phones.