Haiti on the mApp with Lokal
By Rick Amisial – Haiti Telecom – May 28, 2012
Haiti is taking off and they are not leaving technology behind. In the overcrowded App Market, unless you’re looking for Haitian Radios and creole language translation tools, Haitian Apps are scarce, almost inexistent. That was until Lokal came on the market. Aptly named, “Lokal” in Haitian Creole means “Spot.” The app can be categorized as an Entertainment and Travel search tool for Haiti and the Haitian communities when such information is available.
As Haiti and its new government is attempting to rebrand Haiti as a touristic destination, a group of young Haitian minds are making sure that you can find your way around should you decide to make Haiti your next vacation spot. From weather forecast in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to Lakay Restaurant in Carénage, Cap-Haitien, Lokal combines all the hotspots information on one sleek, skillfully designed app to make it easier for anyone seeking to experience Haiti or a local Haitian restaurant outside of Haiti or perhaps even a local Haitian art gallery if one exists. On its website www.lokalhaiti.com, Lokal tags itself as the “exclusive Haitian mobile application where you can find out what’s going on in HAITI and in the HAITIAN community around the world.”
The app uses basic tap and scroll functions for navigation. The user simply taps on the intended menu option from the home screen or scrolls to the right to other available menu options. Once the intended search option is selected, the user taps on it to display the search results. The user also has the option of tapping on “Load More” found at the bottom of the screen to display more search results if available. From the Home menu, the option “Places” can be used as a “catch all” since the scroll left/right menu gives the user more of the same options that are also available from the home menu. While Lokal is not a repository of “everything Haitian,” it certainly may become the ultimate guide for someone who is just out and about and looking for a great Haitian cultural experience whether inside or outside of Haiti.
Design and Layout
The app looks flawless and is very functional. “Push Notifications” and Location options allow the app to give the user turn by turn directions to his/her destination. As of this writing, the current version of the app is 3.8.5. As a search tool, the app does not seem to be using existing information available on an online database. Content for the app is made up of information collected by the developer. The screen rotation option is not available on the iPhone for this app. As this was only tested on an iPhone, it’s not known if the option is available on Android devices. As bug fixes and improvements to the App are released, a cool option for this App could be to give users the opportunity to choose favorite locations and allow them to see the top favorite places that have been selected by other users.
Free.99: The app is completely free on the App Store and the Android Market. It is intended to save you time by providing destinations, travel and entertainment options that, perhaps you may not have considered. A great bargain!
About the Developer
The brainchild of popular radio and TV show host Carel Pedre out of Haiti, Lokal is not Carel’s first rodeo. Chokarella, available on the App Store and the Android Market is another app conceptualized by Carel for his popular morning show. The app streams Carel’s show live from Haiti on the 90.1 FM Radio One. Chokarella also features news, videos, music, podcasts, photos, blogs and tweets by Carel.
Download Lokal here:
Find @lokalhaiti on twitter and facebook.
Local Number Portability and Haiti
What is now standard in most major wireless markets, whether in North America or Europe, Local Number Portability is still not available to the end users of the top wireless market in the Caribbean, Haiti. With a population nearing the 10-million mark, Haiti’s cell phone users are estimated to be 4 million; with Digicel, as of October 2010, holding about 2.2 million users of that market. Proposed by the FCC in 1996 for the landline industry in the U.S., Wireless Local Number Portability would not take effect until November 23, 2004. Local Number Portability allows users or customers to transfer their service to another provider and still keep the same phone number. To date, Haiti is one of the few countries where Local Number Portability is still not available to the end user.
Wireless Services and Competition in Haiti
The wireless industry can be seen as perhaps the only industry where bona fide competition has its place in the not-so-formal market economy that is Haiti. Until 1999, the landline carrier Natcom, formerly, Télécommunications d’Haiti S.A.M (Teleco), was the only telephone service provider in Haiti. To date, Natcom has about 160,000 subscribers while the subscriber base in Haiti has grown to an estimated 4 million subscribers. This growth in the subscriber base is exclusively in the wireless industry. Digicel’s introduction of low cost handsets and more affordable rate plan or per-minute rate, has forced existing service providers like Voilà, formerly known as Comcel, and Haitel to considerably reduce their prices. At 85% market penetration in the wireless service in Haiti, Digicel, the largest service provider of cellular services, has a market share of about 60%. Services provided by the wireless companies will help the industry to sustain and increase its growth. At the end of 2010, two mobile banking options were made available to the Haiti’s cellular end users by Digicel and Voilà. They were respectively TchoTcho and T-Cash. “Digicel’s November 22, 2010 launch of TchoTcho has won an initial first-to-market award of $2.5 million from the Haiti Mobile Money Initiative, a joint effort of USAID and the Gates Foundation, and is poised to win another award for having the country’s largest share of market.” Eva Pereira – The Race for Marketshare is On.
Local Number Portability – The Benefits for Haiti
Haiti’s telecommunications services regulating body, CONATEL, has no information on its website regarding Local Number Portability or its plan to make this option available to Haitian end users. As the service is mostly prepaid in Haiti, security and identity verification procedures are in dire need of improvement. Losing a phone in Haiti could very well mean losing the phone number as well if you are unable to verify the PIN of your handset. As Haiti’s end users get free incoming calls, it is estimated that a lot Haitians carry at least two cellular phones. This allows them to stay connected on their network of choice and add minutes to the phone when they can or need to.
With so much progress that has already been made in the wireless industry, giving the Haitian end user the ability to port their telephone number to the carrier of their choice can only strengthen the industry. For businesses and individuals who conduct businesses through their phone, they will finally be able to switch to the competition and not have to give up on a number that could be critical to operating their businesses.
For the Haitian end user, the benefits of number portability can be:
- Lower rate plan or per minute rate
- Increased quality of service (fewer dropped calls, better customer service)
- More substantiated attempt at customer retention (more “perks” for the consumer)
- Additional features and services
- More corporate social responsibility initiatives to lure potential customers
Possible Challenges to Number Portability in Haiti
Currently, wireless service providers in Haiti encourage retention by making it less expensive for the end user to call within their network. This encourages friends and family members to have the same service providers to keep cost to a minimum. In Haiti, the end user is able to identify the carrier by the four digits of their exchange in their phone numbers. Contrary to the US, Haiti has an 11-digit number system: a three-digit area code, followed by a four-digit exchange and a four-digit suffix. As numbers are assigned in block to service providers, it’s rather easy for the end user to know what carrier a certain number belongs to by simply looking at the exchange. This allows the user to know how much an outgoing call may cost if the number they’re dialing is outside of their network. In that aspect, this will cause service providers to reevaluate their inter-carrier rate structures. Companies with deeper pocket may be the beneficiaries due to the fiercer competition this will create. The ultimate beneficiary in that regards? The end user.
CONATEL and WLNP
While the operators may be looking at an increased operating cost due to the infrastructure that would be required to implement WLNP in Haiti, that cost should be shared among the carriers. The long term benefits can be significant for the innovative and dynamic cellular provider. With Digicel having such a large market share, it’s unknown if carriers such as Haitel with less than 10% market share would agree to such a proposition. Number Portability is not simply a tool to increase competition. It should also be considered a right for the Haiti end users. This is where CONATEL needs to step in to regulate and mediate the Number Portability process in Haiti.