Photo Credit: The Conversation

The GSMA has launched a new Innovation Fund for Rural Connectivity, aimed at expanding digital inclusion through innovative new technology solutions for connecting unserved rural communities. The Fund is backed by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and managed by the GSMA. The Fund will provide grants up to £300,000 and is open to eligible companies who can deploy solutions in Uganda or Ghana, in partnership with MTN Uganda and Vodafone Ghana respectively. Funded projects will test innovative ways to deploy mobile broadband networks in rural areas, looking to demonstrate commercially sustainable models that can be scaled and replicated in similar environments.

“Mobile operators are committed to advancing connectivity in rural areas as they work to deliver commercially sustainable solutions to accelerate progress against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer, GSMA. “The Innovation Fund for Rural Connectivity will drive partnerships aimed at developing new ways of using mobile technologies to close coverage gaps in rural areas so that more citizens have access to life-enhancing mobile services.”

Projects eligible for funding will test innovative ways to deploy mobile broadband networks in rural areas, in partnership with a mobile operator, and projects will need to demonstrate commercially sustainable models that can be scaled and replicated in similar environments. Successful grantees and their partners will receive advice and guidance from the GSMA, including analytical support to identify commercially viable sites for deployment, and full technical and commercial performance reports. Applications will need to focus on at least one of the following areas: active base station technology; passive infrastructure; energy; backhaul; operation and maintenance; or sustainable business models.

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 recognizes the importance of connectivity and include a specific target on ensuring universal and affordable access to the internet.

According to the GSMA’s Connectivity Index, more than two-thirds of the global population is now connected to the internet. The GSMA’s recent Mobile Industry Impact Report 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.

Giusti continued, “Deploying infrastructure in remote areas can be twice as expensive as in urban areas, with smaller revenue opportunities. The challenge is not only to bring mobile internet coverage to rural areas but to do so in a way that ensures long-term commercial sustainability. Innovation and partnership will be essential in addressing this challenge, and the Innovation Fund can play a key role in identifying new ways of using mobile technology to connect the unconnected.”

Via GSMA, DFID