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SMSTools3 Community » Help and support Bottom

[answered] Texting Service - Health in Third World Country

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Author Post
Member
Registered:
Mar 2010
Location: Santa Ana, El Salvador
Hello,

I am new to this Forum and this technology. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador, graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor's in Computer Science.

Last night I was reading about a Volunteer in Africa who set up a system where kids could anonymously text questions about sex, health, etc to a number, which would then be sent (Round Robin style) to one of several trained Peace Corps Health Volunteers, who could then answer the questions.

The anonymity practically eliminates shyness, which can be a huge barrier in providing health services.

My question is, what would it take to set up such a system? Would I have to negotiate with Tigo (the larger cell phone providers here)? Would I have to purchase a cellphone with a cable and have it connected constantly to a computer with the internet?

Any help/advice will be greatly appreciated, and go toward a good cause!

Thank you,

-Yumans

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

Administrator
Registered:
May 2009
Location: Jyväskylä, Finland
You need a computer which can run Linux. It does not have to be very powerful, a cheap one will be ok. A Windows machine can also be used together with Cygwin, but I recommend Linux because even if you are not familiar with it, with Cygwin you must anyway learn some Unix style commands, scripting etc. This kind of a service is easier to run and maintain on Linux.

You do not have to negotiate with Tigo, expect to get a SIM for this purpose. An ordinary SIM is ok and it can also be a prepaid SIM. Usually a direct connection to the service center is much more expensive than using a SIM and modem.

You can use a cellphone with a cable, but a real modem is recommended as these are usually more stable than cellphones.

The computer can run without a connection to internet, expect if you are using e-mail for delivering questions and answers to/from volunteers.

In the Smstools3 there is an eventhandler feature. It's a script or program which is called every time when a message is received or sent. With an eventhandler almost any functionality can be done.

Here is the outline structure of the service, if e-mails are not used:

A question is received from some kid using SMS.

In the eventhandler:
- Check the number of sender. If it's a number of some volunteer, message should be handled in different way.

- Create an unique ID (12345) for that question.
- Select the volunteer. A database could have a table with counters for this.
- Forward a question to that volunteer, starting with the ID.
- Store the question to the database with ID, senders number and volunteer.
- A return message can also be sent: "Thanks for asking. You will get the answer sooner or later.".

Selected volunteer will get an SMS: "12345 My question is about...".

Volunteer will answer with an SMS: "12345 The answer is...".

In the eventhandler it's detected that SMS is from some volunteer.
- Get the ID from SMS (12345) and search it from the database.
- It could be checked that the volunteer is the same as in the database.
- Get the original number of sender and forward the answer to that number.
- Perhaps answer could be saved to the database.


What do you think about this? And do you have any experience with Linux and MySQL (or some other database)?

Member
Registered:
Mar 2010
Location: Santa Ana, El Salvador
Topic owner
Hey Keke,

That sounds just like what I want to do.

Would the SIM chip go in to the Modem? (If so, never knew Modems used SIMs). You say internet connection wouldn't be necessary, but I assume it would always have to be connected to a phone line? Or in which way would it send/receive the messages? (Sorry if my questions are really ignorant :-P)

I have slight knowledge with Linux, a decent amount of experience with MySQL, and lots of will and motivation!

I appreciate very much your help so far, and hope you can clarify my above questions even more!

This is a project I'm only investigating in to right now, as I am busy right now finishing some Software for a Non-Governmental Organization, teaching Art classes to youth, coaching a girl's basketball team, guiding and helping a Youth Committee, and finding personal time to be with my girlfriend, play basketball to keep in shape, and star gazing (just got my first telescope ever :-) ). Busy, but happy!

Administrator
Registered:
May 2009
Location: Jyväskylä, Finland
Yumans wrote
Would the SIM chip go in to the Modem?

With a modem I meant a GSM modem, not a traditional (old) one which was connected to the analog phone line. GSM modem is almost the same as the cellphone with a cable, but it usually works better. Many cellphones have features which are not required when SMS messaging is done using the external interface. Some cellphones ("smart phones") cannot even be used with Smstools, because they do not show incoming messages through the external interface.

Sorry, I did not read your first question carefully enough :(. You need a cellphone with a cable, or GSM modem, connected to the computer. Internet connection is not required for SMS messaging, GSM modem or cellphone will do it.

Yumans wrote
I have slight knowledge with Linux, a decent amount of experience with MySQL, and lots of will and motivation!

Will and motivation are the most important, everything else will then follow... 8)

When (possibly) starting to build this service, you could first use SMS for all messaging. Later, when everything works fine, and there is more and more traffic, you could check if e-mail is better way to communicate with volunteers. It's cheaper than SMS and easier to type with a real keyboard instead of keypad of a phone. E-mail will, of course, require an internet or intranet connection. On the other hand, all volunteers probably do not have e-mail available 24/7, which means that SMS could still be better way, at least faster way, to communicate.

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