The Dilemma of Equality of Access to Mobile Services in an interconnected world

Unequal access to Mobile Services creates a disenfranchised part of the population. 

Urban communities connected to mobile, wifi and fibre, are continuously developing on a daily, and incremental basis, as access to information and data provides unlimited opportunities to improve quality of life, with education and knowledge.

People in rural, or ultra-rural communities, are without fibre or wifi, and have only limited access to mobile services.  In Africa, many rural areas are covered only by 2G.  Without connectivity, these communities are increasingly left behind in a two-tier society: those in affluent, urban areas who “have” access to the rapid expansion of easy and affordable mobile-network coverage; and those who “have not”, remaining stuck in the intersection of social and internet exclusion.

Emerging markets with access to information and communication are accelerating economic growth and innovation.  So, why haven’t more areas been covered until now?  It seems inconceivable, in the 21st century, that it is the underserved population from disproportionately low income and rural areas, who have the greatest need, and yet, the least access.

The issue of infrastructure is the main barrier to growth, with its prohibitive cost, and the time and complexity associated with its deployment, including inefficiencies based on political agendas.

Many rural communities don’t have access to a stable power supply grid, and as a result, mobile carriers who wish to deploy towers in the region need to make huge investments in power solutions, thereby increasing the costs and maintenance of those sites.  In fact, in emerging markets with limited, or unstable grid supply, the cost of power accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the total monthly cost of a tower. While in Europe, that power consumption accounts for only 2 to 3 per cent of the total cost, meaning that much of the margin is lost on generating energy.

Since the income of individuals in remote areas is low, and often below the poverty line, so is the spend in mobile services.  And because of power issues, the operating expenditure (Opex) is much higher, making it financially unsustainable for the carriers.  In fact, there’s a cyclical impact of non-electrification, when the power problem is so acute, that smartphone users are unable to frequently charge their device and have to rely on a feature phone, further contributing to the digital divide.

Ultimately, emerging markets need to focus their efforts on deploying power towards the various mini-grid solutions.  Available at a much lower cost than traditional high voltage power generation and distribution, there is a huge incentive to transform the communications ecosystem, and accomplish in 3-4 years what would have previously taken a decade to achieve.