Access to communications is fundamental to economic development. It can boost quality of life, from delivering information on health and agricultural productivity to keeping families in touch.
Yet two-thirds of the world's population have no means of using even the most basic modern service, such as making a phone call or sending an e-mail. Even the lowest-cost handset (less than £20 at wholesale prices) and service plans are beyond the reach of most people in the developing world.
Accenture Development Partnerships (ADP), the consulting firm's not-for-profit arm, has been working with the GSM Association (GSMA) - a global trade association of GSM operators, mobile phone makers and suppliers - to devise a business model for rural locations through which access could be shared, using existing mobile phone infrastructure and low-cost technology.
Local entrepreneurs are at the heart of the approach. Specially designed mobile 'business-in-a-box' kits provide everything a village entrepreneur needs to set up and start selling access. The model is easy to understand and to put into practice, so it can be rapidly adopted and expanded.
The project began in Bangladesh, where 85% of the population (90 million people) live in rural areas. Fortunately, the Grameenphone mobile network covers 80% of the country, delivering high-speed data through EDGE technology.
ADP and the GSMA created 16 information centres around the country, with up to eight terminals in each. Entrepreneurs purchase a business kit (handset, charger, talk time and basic marketing material) and charge customers a small fee to make a call. ADP and Grameenphone also developed a web portal with information for each local community. 'It was amazing to see how big an impact such a simple concept could have,' says David Seaton, manager of the Bangladesh project.
In little over a year, 11 shared data/voice pilot projects are under way in communities across India, South Africa, Algeria, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Bangladesh, with about 30 people sharing a phone. New pilots are in the pipeline for Albania, Uganda and Indonesia.
Where possible, ADP is using biofuels to power transmitters as well as encouraging the application of mobile technologies to monitor disease.
Client: Church of England
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Accenture worked with the GSMA to bring cheap mobile connectivity to developing countries via information centres run by local entrepreneurs: 16 centres have been set up in Bangladesh.
- Build a model that is easy to understand, explain and replicate.
- Develop a framework that needs little external funding.
- Persuade local operators that the scheme is commercially viable.
- Provide a detailed analysis of the logistics required.
- Find solutions through partnerships that exploit the strengths of each.