Reducing the digital divide in an economically viable and truly inclusive way.
27Feb 2019

Latest statistics peg the number of mobile subscribers at 5.6 billion* globally. However, the number of subscriptions has increased to 7.9 billion, creating a global subscription penetration of 104%. That’s more subscriptions than the total human population on earth!

Yet, a sizeable 2.1 billion people across the globe are without mobile subscriptions, unable to benefit from the social and economic development opportunities of connectivity and the internet. The commercial challenges of including the 2.1 billion people within the footprint of mobile connectivity are often complex. They can be addressed though, by a combination of innovation at the technology and policy level, both of which need to be undertaken urgently, or we’ll have created an excess for the ‘haves’ of mobile technology, while the ‘have-nots’ keep drifting further from accessing 21st century’s biggest technological revolution.

Before we delve into what those solutions might be, some of which VNL has deployed first-hand, and has maintained successfully, let’s take a quick look at what the historical impediments to connecting the population of 2.1 billion have been.

In the last couple of decades, network operators have invested extensively in building telecom infrastructure and extending network access, from cost-prohibitive fixed-line extensions in developing countries, to creating single-point fixed-line access points to coverage (what can be called as community network hotspots), to using satellite networks and delivering internet over mobile devices.

But the fact that majority of the 2.1 billion unconnected population lives in rural areas of the world, with typically low incomes and little to no infrastructure to support access to coverage has deterred these operators from investing without the support of ancillary infrastructure that will keep their investments alive and profitable. The result has left an ‘access gap’ – areas where there is no mobile connectivity.

The response to lack of ancillary infrastructure isn’t to deter from building telecom infrastructure. Instead, it is to build without it, nonetheless.

When VNL first started to connect the last mile, we knew we had to design solutions independent of infrastructure dependency. We couldn’t rely on a continuous grid supply to keep our cell sites operational in an area where blackout was a common occurrence.

So we designed a fully-green, sustainable network infrastructure.

When we realized, as we moved to deploy in harsher regions, that terrain will be a considerable impediment to logistics, we focused our efforts on portability of the solution.

When we learnt that it isn’t the technology, but the overall experience that a consumer prefers, we put each technology to its optimum use in different fields of application spread across occupations, geographies, economies and cultures.

Owing to such flexible design thinking, VNL’s solutions came to be known to reduce the cost of access, and helped increase viability of investments in building telecom infrastructure in areas crippled by the absence of foundational infrastructure like electricity or motor-able roads.

Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to bring connectivity to the remotest corners of the world, to communities that are off grid but fully connected like their urban counterparts. That’s in part attributable to innovation at a technological level. Sustained inclusion will require a multi-pronged strategy, with a particular emphasis on innovation in policy design. Governments have a critical role to play here. An encouraging and foreseeable regulatory environment will delimit expansion of network coverage by industry innovators. One such supportive landscape could include ease of spectrum availability, along with an ICT strategy that recognises the underlying factors to restrained network access and is thus designed to include elements inherent to creating a welcoming environment for ICT expansion.

It is in such a scenario that a collaboration between all stakeholders – governments, policy makers, network operators, device manufacturers, and NGOs will fructify.

Today, VNL is working on several projects/pilots aimed at servicing the last mile of mobile technology to strengthen education, health, inclusion, governance, equality, access and security. We’ve been recognised and acknowledged for our global experience, regional proficiency and a suite of solutions we design and develop to address a country’s unique ICT challenge.

Going forward, VNL plans to execute intelligent use of connectivity as we innovate and integrate solutions to address connectivity challenges in public safety and homeland security. For updates, follow us on our social media channels – Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn

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