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Extended mobile coverage for South Sudan refugee camp

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South Sudan’s biggest refugee camp is expected to get extended mobile telecommunications coverage to support the humanitarian efforts of United Nations (UN) aid workers.

Middle East and African mobile operator Zain Group together with the Vodafone Foundation Instant Network yesterday announced the extension of coverage to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) refugee camp at Yida, Unity State, South Sudan.

The refugee camp in Yida has become a temporary home to 70,000 civilians who have fled the conflict between Sudanese government forces and rebels from the North Sudanese People Liberation Movement (SPLM-North) in Sudan's South Kordofan region since June 2011.

Humanitarian group Doctors without Borders says that Yida is South Sudan’s largest refugee camp. South Sudan became an independent state in July 2011.

Bahrain-headquartered Zain says in a statement that the Yida refugee camp is an “overcrowded temporary settlement that lacks even the most basic infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, the telecoms operator has operations in South Sudan where it offers 3G voice and data services.

“The connectivity will enhance better coordination of food and medical supplies amongst other critical communications tasks undertaken by UNHCR,” says Zain in a statement.

“It will also allow refugees to contact their loved ones for free and provide thousands of children living in refugee camps with access to life-changing educational programs which cannot be delivered through any other means,” the company adds.

As part of its partnership with the Vodafone Foundation Instant Network, Zain South Sudan has agreed to provide access to its core network, and plans to provide two network engineers to support the deployment and maintenance of the instant network in Yida.

The Vodafone Foundation Instant Network specialises in rapid mobile coverage that can be extended to a region in the case of emergency, offering what it says is “easy transportation, rapid activation, and smart connectivity.”

The Vodafone organisation uses what it calls an “ultraportable solution” that weighs 32 kilograms and can be transported in four suitcases. According to Zain and Vodafone, the solution can then be activated in 40 minutes, and a standalone network established can then support “free local voice and SMS, as well as remote connectivity”.

Vodafone Foundation Instant Network's is loaning the Yida instant network unit for a minimum duration of six months, and the provision of satellite backhaul to connect to Zain South Sudan's network.

Zain South Sudan says it has also made available a pool of free airtime (voice, SMS, data and GSM mobile phones) for UNHCR, refugees and other vulnerable populations living in Yida.

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