A major focus of the ICT4Ag conference is to stimulate thinking about how ICT can be used to support agriculture. However, many agricultural areas lack access to connectivity, in particular broadband Internet, which enables ICT use. In a series of two panels, Integra/Orange, together with a broad range of experts, will focus on how to bring connectivity to rural areas and ensure its benefits for agricultural development. The first panel focuses on business and technology solu-tions, and the second on policy solutions, partic-ularly the alignment of agricultural and ICT policies.
ICT Business Models and Technical Solutions for Rural Areas. The mobile revolution in Africa has missed many areas that proved unprofitable under the prevailing technology and business model. What new technologies and new business models can be used to put affordable connectivity into “last mile” rural areas where many agricul-tural producers live? Importantly, how can we leverage other infrastructure to do so?
Eric White is Managing Associate and Lead Economist at the international development firm Integra LLC, and ICT consultant for USAID's Global Broadband and Innovations (GBI) program. He focuses on supporting ministries, regulatory agencies, and private companies to expand affordable broadband connectivity into rural areas. Since 2010, Eric and the GBI team have contributed to rural telecommunications deployments or assisted in improving the rural telecommunications enabling environment in ten countries, including Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and Tanzania. He believes strongly in the power of telecommunications to help rural people overcome poverty, and is looking forward to sharing ideas with everyone at the conference.
Despite the huge success of mobile and a penetration rate still rising in Africa, rural populations are not affected by this trend and remain underserved by telecom services. Rural areas can represent huge opportunities for mobile network operators (MNOs) that are willing to extend their networks. However many challenges have to be tackled to address the lack of connectivity in rural areas. The constraints of these rural areas make the return of investment unclear for the operator and current network solutions are too expensive and not adapted to remote areas. Furthermore, the lack of data (demographics, geomarketing tools) is a handicap to planning investments in these areas of low-income.
The Orange group has been working for several years to find innovative solutions that are adapted to the aforementioned constraints in order to enhance rural and agricultural development. For example, the Community Phone project has been implemented in six African countries to allow isolated villages that were not covered by mobile network, to be connected thanks to an antenna extending coverage out from the base station. This solution allows rural people to call or be called and to access new services like health or agricultural information.
By adopting this model, the network coverage extension is made, but is also limited by the signal emission distance. Many remote areas still cannot be covered. Accordingly, in 2011, by partnering with Altobridge, Orange Niger decided to deploy low-cost sites in order to reach remote areas. By combining advanced communications technologies with green-energy, the low-cost sites allow Orange Niger to deliver affordable mobile connectivity to reach first-time subscribers in these areas. The low-cost sites appear to be hardly profitable due to the threat of competition and the high quality of service requested to strengthen Orange presence. However, by reducing these costs in innovative ways or by partnering, an MNO can be more able to invest in network extension in rural areas.
1. Infrastructure sharing seems to be one of the main solutions for MNOs to extend their networks in rural areas, the share of their installations can allow them to reduce considerably their costs.
2. MNOs have face fast innovation cycles in their investment decisions (2G, 3G, LTE…) areas as ROI are often long term
3. Strong and reliable partnerships remain essential for the success of rural and agricultural development in Africa. Strong involvement from international to local stakeholders is key, from investors through experts to local organisation for ICT education
Over the last two years, Cisco Inclusive Growth group has worked with several state governments in India to provide last mile connectivity and deliver services. For this, Cisco developed an innovative edge device called “CEED” which enables live 2-way streaming of video and voice allowing people to interact in real-time. This ceiling mounted device combines a built-in router that also acts as a Wi-Fi access point, a computer, and a projection screen, allowing multiple users to share a single Internet connection. Cisco also collaborated closely with the service provider(s) to draw overhead fiber/copper/wireless and get at least 1Mbps symmetric internet bandwidth to rural areas. Ruggedly designed for the rural environment with high levels of dust & heat tolerance, it is connected to an Uninterruptible Power Supply to overcome frequent power outages and voltage fluctuations. Also important, a low level of power consumption significantly reduces the cost of operation.
In the case of India with over 600,000 student hours of remote teaching in schools and hostels, Cisco saw an increase in class attendance and reductions in absenteeism and dropout rates. Children now do better in exams and failure rates have declined. We have also used the same network for Training of Teachers and trained 282 rural teachers using one expert master trainer. Successfully delivering services to remote and rural areas, a similar system could be used for agricultural extension purposes.
Over the last 15 months, Cisco has enabled 49,000 healthcare consultations in remote locations of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. As a result, villagers are able to consult with specialist government doctors in district hospitals normally out of reach. Currently used in the sectors of education and health, this system could also bring information and resources to farmers in rural areas to serve the area of agricultural development.
The Mawingu project is led by Indigo, a Kenyan Internet Service Provider (ISP), and leverages innovative new wireless technologies utilizing unused TV band spectrum (“TV white spaces”) and solar powered base stations to deliver broadband access and incorporates various Microsoft devices and cloud-based services, including a Microsoft white spaces database. The project – branded as “Mawingu” or “cloud” in Swahili – is a Public Private Partnership (PPP) between Indigo, Microsoft, and the Government of Kenya. The ultimate goal of the network is to cover all the currently unserved (but servable) areas of Kenya and eventually to replicate the project into many other African countries. This network would, among other things, enable agricultural extension, e-government, and financial outreach.
The Mawingu project was founded on the idea that solar powered packet switched data delivered on UHF spectrum is the most affordable way to connect rural Africa to broadband internet. However, when trying to create a sustainable business model out of broadband delivery to poor and very poor people it becomes relevant to take a closer look at what affordability truly means and what the implications are on the preferred broadband delivery model for people current living off grid. The Mawingu business model considers affordability as a function of four components. They are:
In this presentation Mawingu will review how each of these four are considered and what the implications are on finding the sweet spot for a sustainable business model to deliver rural broadband.
We will also go through how the Mawingu business model aligns with the ideas of Porter and Cramer on Creating Shared Value (CSV) by looking at a stakeholder roster that includes not only supply chain actors but also the local government, schools, clinics and colleges.