How can mobile internet coverage be brought to underserved rural areas in a way that also ensures long-term commercial sustainability?
In the hope of answering this question the GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, 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 of up to £300,000 ($392,000) 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.
Not just money but help and guidance will be offered to grant winners, including analytical support to identify commercially viable sites for deployment, and full technical and commercial performance reports.
There are conditions, of course. 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.
Rural and remote connectivity needs have inspired some impressive innovations since the birth of 2G. Will underserved communities be a thing of the past by the time mass-market 5G arrives? The GSMA initiative is at least a step in the right direction.