November 16, 2019/Aetoswire
The GSMA today announced the winners of the Connected Society Innovation Fund for Rural Connectivity. Fairwaves Inc., iSat Africa and NuRAN, have been awarded grants of up to £330,000 to test and evaluate new innovative mobile internet connectivity solutions for unconnected rural communities in Africa. The fund will be allocated in partnership with Vodafone Ghana and MTN Uganda and is set to run for approximately 18 months. A total number of 17 new greenfield sites will pilot innovative solutions to deploy mobile broadband networks in rural areas, that will provide low-cost mobile internet coverage through commercially sustainable models, that can be scaled and replicated in similar environments across the region.
“This collaboration is ground-breaking in its aims to connect unconnected communities in rural locations and deliver a range of essential digital services,” said Akinwale Goodluck, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa, GSMA. “The challenge is not only bringing mobile internet coverage to rural areas, which can be twice as expensive as in urban areas and with smaller revenue opportunities but to do so in a way that ensures long-term commercial sustainability. Innovation and partnership is essential to addressing this challenge, and the Innovation Fund, in association with the mobile ecosystem and government partners, is playing a key role in identifying new ways of using mobile technology to connect the unconnected.”
“We appreciate partnerships like this one that help us in delivering our connectivity promise to the remotest of places,” said Mr Gordian Kyomukama, Chief Technical Officer, MTN Uganda. “This partnership is a perfect example of the motivation behind MTN’s recently launched ‘We’re good together’ initiative which attests that through partnerships, we can change lives by improving digital access; driving financial inclusion; empowering and enabling SMEs; creating jobs and broad community development, all using the power of connectivity.”
‘This pioneering initiative will certainly extend mobile connectivity and access to communities within parts of Northern Ghana,” said Patricia Obo-Nai, Chief Executive Officer, Vodafone Ghana. “More than ever before, mobile communication has become the preferred means of staying connected with family as well as businesses. This initiative is in line with our objective to leave no one behind as we drive the digital transformation agenda in this ever-changing technological environment.’’
The solutions from Fairwaves Inc., iSat Africa and NuRAN and their partners were assessed by an independent judging panel of industry experts and considered the most suitable among the applicants to address challenging rural environments that have low population density, difficult terrain and limited infrastructure. The Fund is backed by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and managed by the GSMA. The Fund provides grants up to £330,000 and was open to eligible companies who could deploy solutions in Uganda or Ghana, in partnership with MTN Uganda and Vodafone Ghana.
The winning consortiums plan to deliver their solutions in the following six months to and the remaining 12 months will be assigned to the host mobile operator to integrate the sites in their network, and for GSMA to monitor and evaluate the performance of the project. The regulatory bodies in both countries have shown great support for the project. For example, the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC) have assisted in the provision of land and waivered tax and duty exemptions for imported equipment of up to 38 per cent for fund grantees. All savings provided in these waivers have been reinvested to enable more coverage site to connect more citizens in rural communities in Ghana.
Connectivity Drives Social and Economic Benefits
Mobile internet connectivity brings a wide range of social and economic benefits, helping to promote digital inclusion and supporting the delivery of essential services and key development objectives such as poverty eradication, healthcare, education, financial services and gender equality. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals recognises the importance of connectivity and include a specific target on ensuring universal and affordable access to the internet.
According to the GSMA’s State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report1, more than two-thirds of the global population is now connected to the internet. The GSMA’s recent Mobile Industry Impact Report2 highlights that countries with high levels of mobile connectivity have made more progress in meeting their SDG commitments. The study shows that mobile is continuing to expand its reach, with 400 million more people benefiting from mobile connectivity since 2015, but more work needs to be done, particularly in rural areas.