Module 2: Making ICT More Accessible and Affordable in Rural Areas
Table of Contents:
Topic Note 2.1: Making ICTs Affordable in Rural Areas
Topic Note 2.2: Public Innovations in Universal Access to Telecommunications
- Innovative Practice Summary: Passive Infrastructure Sharing in Nigeria
- Innovative Practice Summary: Turkey's Oligopolistic Infrastructure
- Innovative Practice Summary: Dabba's Experience with Unlicensed Wireless Services in South Africa
- Innovative Practice Summary: Bhutan's Community Information Centers Adapt to the Geological and Consumer Context
Topic Note 2.3: Mobile Money Moves to Rural Areas
- Innovative Practice Summary: M-PESA's Pioneering Money Transfering Service
- Innovative Practice Summary: Zain Zap Promotes Borderless Mobile Commerce
- Innovative Practice Summary: Pakistan's Tameer Microfinance Bank for the Economically Active Poor
- Innovative Practice Summary: Txteagle Taps a Vast Underused Workforce
- Topic Note 2.4: Delivering Content for Mobile Agricultural Services
- References and Further Reading
ICTs have a demonstrably positive effect on income growth in developing and developed countries (Röller and Waverman 2001; Waverman, Meschi, and Fuss 2005). In rural areas, ICTs can raise incomes by increasing agricultural productivity (Lio and Liu 2006) and introducing income channels other than traditional farm jobs. Current limited evidence from individual farmers and fishers in India supports the conclusion that ICTs improve incomes and quality of life among the rural poor (Goyal 2010; Jensen 2007). The idea that wider access to and use of ICTs throughout a country will reduce inequalities in income and quality of life between rural and urban residents is compelling. Despite the scarcity of evidence to support this notion (Forestier, Grace, and Kenny 2002), it underlies widespread policy initiatives to ensure equitable access to ICTs in all areas.
Creating affordable ICT services in rural areas is a complex challenge. In these areas, the “last mile” of telecommunications infrastructure is provided at a very high cost that may not be justified by the resulting use and effects of the telecommunications network. Affordable access to ICTs in rural areas can be frustrated at the supply as well as the demand end of the service-provision chain. To supply ICTs and related services in rural areas, the main challenge is the high level of capital and operating expenses incurred by service providers. On the demand side, rural adoption of ICTs in developing countries is curtailed by low availability of complementary public services, such as electricity and education, and by the relative scarcity of locally relevant content.
Recognizing the equity implications of access to ICTs, governments have adopted regulatory policies to enable the rollout of ICT infrastructure and the supply of services in rural areas, and they have addressed low rural demand by introducing locally relevant content in the form of e-government and e-agriculture services. The task of regulation policy has been to keep pace with technological developments while maintaining licensing policies geared toward equity; in other words, to reduce inequalities within countries while maintaining sound business reasoning within the telecommunications sector.
This module describes what is meant by “accessible” and “affordable” ICTs and discusses the more general policy strategies that influence rural access to ICTs. Topic Note 2.1 is a relatively technical review of the infrastructure, networks, devices, and services for delivering ICTs affordably in rural areas. Topic Note 2.2 considers the role of public innovation in achieving universal access to infrastructure and appliances. The compounded access problem, consisting of limited rural access to ICTs and limited rural access to financial services, is discussed in Topic Note 2.3. The discussion focuses on business models that enable the mobile microfinance industry to grow. Topic Note 2.4 explores efforts to build on expanding mobile networks in rural areas to deliver value-added livelihood services to farmers (primarily information to reduce agricultural losses and increase income).
“Access” in Relation to Two Broad Concepts in Telecommunications Policy: Universal Access and Universal Service
Within telecommunication policy, “access” can be understood in relation to two broad concepts: universal service and universal access (Gasmi and Virto 2005). “Universal service”1 is a policy objective primarily used in developed countries. It focuses on upgrading and extending communication networks so that a minimum level of service is delivered to individual households, even in the least accessible areas. US objectives are generally pursued by imposing universal service obligations on network operators. “Universal access,”2 a policy objective more typical for developing countries, seeks to expand the geographic access to ICTs of the population at large, and often for the very first time. UA obligations provide for a minimum coverage, especially of remote communities, thereby allowing all citizens to “use the service, regardless of location, gender, disabilities, and other personal characteristics” (Dymond et al. 2010). Table 2.1 outlines the characteristics of universal access and universal service in terms of their availability, accessibility, and affordability.
In designing policy interventions to promote equitable access to ICTs, the technology and its users must be considered as forming a socio-technical system through which improved ICT access translates into improved rural livelihoods and sustainable benefits for rural residents. Many authors have considered access to ICTs holistically, with an aim of understanding different aspects of how access is enabled or impeded, including technological, socioeconomic, and cultural aspects.3 This module uses the Access Rainbow Framework (Clement and Shade 2000), depicted in figure 2.1, to understand access to ICTs. The Access Rainbow Framework demonstrates the multifaceted nature of access to ICTs and captures the socio-technical architecture instrumental to it. The framework goes beyond a mechanical understanding of ICT access by including enablers of ICT such as locally relevant content, ICT literacy, proximal ICT use,4 and social mechanisms for governing ICT use. (Click here for Table 2.1)
|Source: Authors, following Clement and Shade 2000.|
The Access Rainbow provides a framework for discussing access to ICT infrastructure, appliances, and services. The “carriage facilities” layer is a physical technology layer consisting of installed network capacity, network connectivity, and interoperability standards. In this module, this layer is interpreted as access toICT infrastructure. Access to ICT appliances is captured by the physical layer of ICT hardware devices and the logical layer of software tools on these devices. With its twofold (hardware and software) nature, access to ICT appliances links the supply of ICT infrastructure with the provision of services targeted at end users. Access to ICT services is a more amorphous concept, consisting of: (1) the ready availability of content (resources), fulfilling users’ roles as citizens, producers, and consumers; (2) the ready availability (to those who are not experts in the technology) of network access and appropriate support services through commercial vendors; (3) the availability of formal and informal learning facilities for developing network literacy; and (4) the ready availability of channels through which individual users can participate in decisions about telecommunications services, their social inclusiveness, and the public accountability of their provision.
In considering interventions to improve access to ICTs, practitioners must consider the complexity of access to ICT infrastructure, appliances, and services. It is important to locate the access layer within which an intervention is anchored and to assess how it relates to contingent aspects of access.
For public policy makers, a comprehensive understanding of the processes determining ICT access is best achieved within a holistic framework, but policy makers may also find some value in quantifying ICT access within countries and drawing comparisons across countries. To measure the digital divide between countries and assess countries’ ICT development potential, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) introduced the ICT Development Index (IDI) as an indicator of countries’ level of ICT development. The IDI measures access by considering ICT readiness and five additional indicators: fixed telephony, mobile telephony, international Internet bandwidth, households with computers, and households with Internet(ITU 2010). Figure 2.2 shows that in recent years (2002–08) developing countries have exhibited considerably greater access values than developed countries, largely owing to explosive growth in mobile telecommunications in developing countries.
Source: ITU 2010. Note: For each year, the figures use the simple average value of the IDI access subindex over all developed or developing countries. The compound
annual growth rate (CAGR) of the IDI access subindex is computed by the formula (Pv / P0)(1/n) − 1, where Pv = present value, P0 = beginning value, n =number of periods. The result is multiplied by 100 to obtain a percentage.
|Source: ITU 2010. Note: PPP$ = GNI per capita in current international dollars, obtained using Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) conversion factors.|
Affordability as a Function of Pricing and Business Model
An affordable universal service is one in which the “cost of average monthly usage is a small percentage of monthly gross national income (GNI) per capita” (Dymond et al. 2010). As a concept, affordability is easier to measure than access.As a measure of affordability, ITU uses the ICT price basket, which includes price indicators for fixed telephones, mobile phones, and fixed broadband service (ITU 2010).5 Figure 2.3 clearly shows that by this measure fixed-line broadband was the single most expensive and least affordable service in developing countries as of 2009. In using this means of assessing affordability, however, it is vital to determine if the contents of the price basket are relevant to the access problem at hand (for example, Topic Note 2.1 questions whether in some contexts the affordability of fixed-line broadband infrastructure merits concern).
The Access Rainbow Framework (introduced in the “Access Concept” section) helps in understanding issues of affordability and sustainability, because it represents the layered system of interdependencies within which technology diffusion, business development, and regulatory policies take place. For example, the ICT layer carrying the highest value proposition for end users is the content/service layer.6 The framework makes it possible to consider the financial viability of all contingent layers (network capacity, availability of appliances, customer support, and so on) and how they may affect the value derived from the content/service layer.
From a regulatory standpoint, the Rainbow approach captures the significance of the separation between layers, most prominently the separation between the carriage and the content layers. Focusing regulatory efforts within layers and enabling competition within and between layers is central to achieving quality end-user services at affordable prices. From a regulatory policy perspective, the layered structure illustrates the trend in policy to enable competitionamongtechnologies delivering comparable functionality by following the principles of competition, technology neutrality, and licensing flexibility.
Ensuring competition within each of the layers is a longstanding policy priority, especially where the economies of scale are conducive to monopolistic market structure.7 Market liberalization and free entry give incumbents incentives to pursue a higher quality of service. For example, starting in 1992 Thailand sought to break up the Communication Authority of Thailand’s monopoly over international gateway services by introducing concessions to private companies under build-transfer-operate agreements. The entry of the private sector alongside state-owned enterprises, such as the Telephone Organization of Thailand, led to remarkable expansion of subscriptions for both fixed and mobile services. Yet the level and the degree of competition in the fixed line and mobile subsectors varied considerably because of the number of concessions and their terms and conditions (Nikomborirak and Cheevasittiyanon 2008). Competition in the mobile market yielded improved connectivity and affordability, while the fixed-line subsector stagnated.
The lesson is that the welfare benefits of market liberalization are achieved by implementing complementary policies on competition that enable market pricing and restrict predatory pricing by incumbents facing new entrants throughout the structural layers of the ICT sector. In Thailand, fixed-line concessions were restricted by stipulated fixed-call rates and upper bounds on the number of subscribers, which skewed the viability of fixed-line rollouts by private concession holders.
In addition to competition, technology neutrality is another leading regulatory policy principle for ensuring the affordability of ICTs. Technology neutrality is the principle of refraining from specifying technology requirements within telecommunications licenses. Historically, specifying technology requirements was a means of stimulating domestic equipment manufacturing, but technology neutrality is advisable within the present rapidly evolving IT industry, because regulatory decisions on technology selection can be risky (box 2.1 presents an example from Korea).
Because no specific technology standards are designated, technology neutrality widens the scope for competition within each layer of the Access Rainbow. Competing operators choose the technology standards that allow them to deliver services cost-effectively. The regulatory policy drift toward technology neutrality is supported by technology developments that lead to increased standards of interoperability (see Rossotto et al. 2010).
The main policy lever for assuring market competition and technology neutrality is flexible licensing policies and the enforcement of flexiblespectrum rights. Strict licenses and spectrum rights can be counterproductive if they restrict the services that can be provided or the technologies used to provide the services (for example, WiMAX licenses have been issued limiting service provision to fixed broadband, to the exclusion of mobile broadband). In addition to limiting the technology possibilities, restricted licenses and spectrum rights can also reduce the bidding incentives in spectrum auctions. Technology flexibility can be achieved within each of the interconnected layers of the ICT system through unified licenses and simplified licenses (Rossotto et al. 2010). Box 2.2 describes Singapore’s experience with facilities-based and service-based operating licenses.
Box 2.2: Singapore’s Simplified Licenses Encourage Innovative, Cost-effective ICT Infrastructure
By ensuring that the installation and operation of any network infrastructure in Singapore is covered by a license, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore ensures the development of innovative and cost-effective infrastructure. Simplified licenses are issued to facilities-based operators (FBOs) and services-based operators (SBOs) of telecommunications networks. FBOs include companies deploying submarine cables to improve international connectivity infrastructure, companies rolling out fiber-optic cables to improve domestic backhaul connectivity, and companies setting up broadband Internet Protocol (IP) or infrared networks. Wireless networks making demands on scarce spectrum resources are licensed separately and subject to comparative selection or auctioning. The operations of FBOs effectively remain within the carriage layer, but FBOs have the flexibility to deploy and/or operate any form of telecommunication networks, systems, and/or facilities on a technology-neutral basis.
SBOs remain within the service/access provision layer, but they have full flexibility to choose their technology. Individual SBO licenses are intended for companies that plan on leasing international connectivity capacities installed by FBOs. Individual SBO licenses cover services such as international simple resale, public Internet access services, and store-and-forward value-added services. SBO class licenses cover store-and-retrieve value-added network services, Internet-based telephony, resale of public switched telecommunication services, and other services.
Source: Halewood 2010.
Note: One result of this clear, flexible approach to ICT development is Singapore’s extensive e-governance system, described in Module 13.
Key Challenges and Enablers
The challenges and enablers related to making ICTs more widely and affordably available to rural people in developing countries are discussed in the sections that follow. Particular attention is given to the kinds of partnerships, regulations, and policies needed to reach that goal.
Considering the multilayered nature of the problem of ensuring affordable rural access to infrastructure, devices, and services, partnerships among organizations with different specialties, capacities, and profit motives appear to be a key way to improve access and affordability. Partnerships serving as critical mechanisms for improving rural ICT access can take the form of partnerships within the public sector, negotiated public-private partnerships, private agreements among stakeholders in the telecommunications sector, or informal understandings between service providers and stakeholders at the community level.
Enabling such partnerships and maintaining them remains a key government role. For example, the public sector played a considerable within the M-PESA collaborative partnership (see IPS “M-PESA’s Pioneering Money-Transfer Service” in Topic Note 2.3). This role involved financially supporting the collaboration among mobile network operators (MNOs) during software development. In Bhutan, partnerships among departments within government were instrumental to the rollout of community information centers in remote areas (see IPS “Community Information Centers: Bhutan,” in Topic Note 2.2).
A variety of motives engender private partnerships that improve rural access to infrastructure and services. For example, in infrastructure-sharing arrangements discussed in Topic Note 2.2, explicit agreements were enacted to share passive infrastructure costs and implement 3G technology.Agreements between commercial and nonprofit partners also make a compelling case for the significance of partnership in implementing projects to deliver improved rural access to ICTs. For example, the Farmer’s Friendservice could be implemented only through collaboration incorporating Grameen Foundation’s understanding of the nonprofit sector, Google’s technology expertise, MTN’s network coverage, and the local agricultural knowledge of the Busoga Rural Open Source Development Initiative.
Regulation and Policy Challenges
Although the evolution of ICTs in developing countries has far to go, it has moved significantly forward in the past decade. The rapid expansion of mobile phone networks and market uptake of Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) technologies8 following liberalization and deregulation are the most frequently cited examples of this evolution.
Informed and effective regulation is necessary for creating an enabling environment that will maximize entrepreneurs’ abilities to expand market offerings and minimize the negative effects of competition on consumers. Barriers such as a monopoly operator, excessive licensing regimes in some contexts (for example, requiring local community networks to have licenses) can negatively affect business potential. At the other end of the spectrum, a supportive fiscal and financial environment and entrepreneurs’ access to financial services can enable and increase the number of socially oriented services.
Significant regulatory issues in the telecommunications sector include taxes, licensing, liberalization, and competition policies. Taxes on communication services strongly influence the affordability of ICTs in Africa, for example, given the low average incomes. Import duties on IT equipment, value- added tax (VAT) (ranging from 5 to 23 percent) on goods and services, and excise taxes on communications services all raise prices, discouraging use. Excessive licensing can also stifle the delivery of various content-based ICT services. Regulations on content broadcasting should be synchronized with pure data transmission regulations (UNCTAD 2010). In terms of competition, policies fostering the effective management of competitive markets, interconnection regimes, and mobile termination rates can provide incentives to invest in quality of service, differentiation, and innovation.
With the increasing adoption of ICTs and growing prominence of ICT-enabled services in consumers’ lives in developing countries, it is worth emphasizing the significance of consumer protection regulation for ensuring the effective governance of multilayered ICT access. Recurrent problems include gaps between advertised “headline” broadband access speeds and what subscribers actually experience, lack of transparency in the pricing of mobile voice and data services, lack of effective mobile number portability, and excessive SMS pricing. Consumer-focused regulations should also target improvements in the legibility and ease of comprehension of transactions, made possible through improved ICT access. Consumer protection can pursue such goals through measures for mobile phone number registration, identity verification, confidentiality, and privacy.
Finally, the advent of financial services implemented on mobiles makes it essential to create an environment that integrates financial regulation and telecommunication regulations. These services are discussed in greater detail in Topic Note 2.3.
Trends and Issues
“Fixed-mobile convergence” is the increasingly seamless connectivity among wired and wireless networks, devices, and applications, which permits users to send and receive data regardless of device and location. Convergence is the result of converting content formats (text, images, audio, video), devices for creating and communicating this content, and telecommunications infrastructure to digital standards.
Device convergence allows devices to support different functionalities and different network access technologies. Service convergence means that end users are able to receive comparable services via different devices and technologies for accessing networks. Network convergence means that a single network is able to carry voice and data formats and can support access by different technologies. Convergence (as the name implies) blurs the distinctions between the domains of Internet service providers, cable television media companies, fixed-line telecommunication companies, and operators of mobile telephony networks (figure 2.4).9 With this context in mind, the discussion that follows examines how technology trends in infrastructure, appliances, and services can influence the delivery of affordable ICTs in developing countries.
What are the current wired and wireless options to improve domestic backbone and “last mile” connectivity? As noted, wired telecommunications infrastructure tends to reach rural areas in the wake of complementary rural access infrastructure such as roads and electricity and the expansion of public services such as education. The lag between the arrival of complementary infrastructure and public services and the establishment of wired ICT infrastructure in rural areas can be considerable, but the introduction of wireless, especially mobile, infrastructure is bound neither by the presence of roads nor by access to the electricity grid.
|Source: Caneval Ventures, “ICT and media industry” (http://www.caneval.com/vision/ictmediaindustry.html, accessed July 2011).|
Rural infrastructure development needs to be considered in light of the different opportunities offered by wired and wireless technologies and the fixed-mobile convergence occurring throughout the ICT sector. Sunderland (2007) notes that fixed-mobile convergence differs in developed and developing countries, where fixed-line teledensity is low. As a result, convergence in developing countries largely amounts to convergence in the delivery of Internet access and voice telephony services over wireless networks. For example, in rural Africa where the teledensity of fixed networks is low and their rollout can be prohibitively expensive, fixed-mobile convergence enables the use of wireless “last mile” infrastructure, while the backhaul traffic is carried on fixed fiber-optic cables because of their high capacity. In small-island developing countries, fixed-mobile convergence allows for international connectivity via satellite rather than undersea cable.
Telecommunications networks comprise a hierarchy of links that connect users at the “edge” of a network to its “core,” also called the “backbone” (the high-capacity links between switches on the network). The backhaul portion of a network consists of the intermediate links between subnetworks at the users’ end and the core network.
In considering how best to develop affordable telecommunications infrastructure in developing countries, all three connectivity segments of the network need to be taken into account: (1) the international and domestic connectivity that makes up the network’s backbone capacity, (2) the domestic backhaul connectivity that enables the intermediate links, and (3) the local loop or “last mile” connectivity that serves end-user access at the edges of the network. (Each of these networks segments is discussed in greater detail in “Domestic backbone and rural backhaul connectivity” and “local loop or ‘last mile’ connectivity.”) The expansion of backhaul connectivity and the provision of “last mile” connectivity pose particular challenges to extending ICTs to rural areas in an affordable way (box 2.3).
Wireless infrastructure may be an economical option, but it has certain cost constraints. Buys et al. (2009) show that the probability of the presence of mobile tower base stations is positively correlated with the potential demand (population density, per capita income), as well as with the absence of factors that increase operational and capital expenditures, such as elevation, slopes, lack of all-weather roads, unreliable power supplies, and even insecurity—see IPS“Passive Infrastructure Sharing in Nigeria” in Topic Note 2.2.
At the carriage level, network convergence is associated with the transformation from circuit-based public switched digital telecommunication networks (PSTNs) to packet-switched networks using the Internet Protocol (IP) and known as next-generation networks (NGNs). Both PSTNs and NGNs are made up of telephone lines, fiber-optic cables, microwave transmission links, mobile networks, communications satellites, and undersea telephone cables.
The difference between the two kinds of networks lies in their switching mechanisms. Under circuit switching, the connection is established on a predetermined, dedicated, and exclusive communication path for the whole length of the communication session. Consequently, PSTN connectivity is costly. In packet-switching protocols, such as IP, the communicated data are broken into sequentially numbered packets, each of which is transmitted to the destination via an independent path, and then the packets are reassembled. In packet-switching, the potential for congestion, packet loss, and delay can mar the quality of the connection. A comparison between traditional fixed-line telephone services and voice over IP (VoIP) clearly demonstrates the difference between the two types of networks. NGNs completely separate the packet-switched transport (connectivity) layer and the service layer, enabling any available fixed-line carriage infrastructure to be used efficiently for any service.
Domestic Backbone and Rural Backhaul Connectivity
As end users’ demand for additional bandwidth grows, insufficient domestic backbone can pose a considerable challenge to the roll-out of fixed-line broadband services. In the mobile sector, insufficient backhaul capacity is becoming a limitation, particularly with the increase of rural 3G data use. Government interventions in support of rural backhaul solutions have included the introduction of public-private funding mechanisms (as in Korea and Chile; see box 2.4), construction subsidies (as in Canada), and the rollout of fiber-optic networks connecting public institutions (Rossotto et al. 2010). Complementary regulations can be used to ensure competitive conditions in the provision of domestic backbone and rural backhaul. The policy tools for supporting domestic backbone rollout and rural backhaul connectivity include infrastructure sharing,10 functional separation,11 and cross-ownership restrictions, allowing for interplatform competition12 (Dartey 2009).
Local Loop or “Last Mile” Connectivity
The delivery of network access in the “last mile” is the most costly and challenging element of rural deployments. The technology options for delivering wired local loop broadband connectivity include the rollout of xDSL,13 cable, and fiber to the home infrastructure. Wireless options include the rollout of mobile (2G, 3G, 4G),14 wireless broadband (WiMAX, Wi-Fi, WLAN),15 and satellite very small aperture terminal (VSAT) infrastructure. Within cell-based (mobile) wireless standards, all users connect to a single base station, and the transmission bandwidth has to be shared among all users in the cell’s coverage area.
Within a short range, wireless broadband transmission is possible at relatively high data rates—hundreds of megabits (Mbps) to a few gigabits (Gbps)—but services of such high quality are not foreseeable for existing mobile standards. Conversely, mobile technologies have the advantage of reliability within a greater access range. Point-to-multipoint solutions, combining VSAT terminals with wireless broadband local access, are increasingly viable and promising. Unlike cell-based connectivity, satellite connectivity does not distribute the available bandwidth among the users; instead, each user is connected independently, so satellite solutions can offer better quality of service. Yet the low density of wired infrastructure, combined with the limited domestic fiber backbone in developing countries, makes wireless a practical option for connectivity in rural areas, despite the limitations imposed on users by sharing capacity.
As this discussion implies, finding the network solution that can ensure affordable ICT in rural areas can be an innovative, challenging, and exhausting process. The choice depends largely on the availability of technology, of rural backhaul, and of complementary infrastructure. It also depends on the flexibility and responsiveness of the regulatory framework to the prevailing technology constraints and opportunities.
Several key technology parameters should be considered in decisions about the expansion of rural connectivity and the choice of technological delivery mechanism. They include the availability of spectrum frequencies, number of base stations needed to cover an area of specific size given a fixed operating frequency, achievable connection speed, data transmission rates, and downlink and uplink speeds.
Given the complexity of such decisions, the role of the regulatory environment should be to expand the set of viable technology options. Flexibility in allowing licensed and unlicensed use of operational frequencies can be advisable. Wellenius (2002) describes how Chile identified cost-effective solutions to reduce the gap between urban and remote areas in access to basic communications technology.
The “digital dividend” has been widely hailed as the solution to urban-rural inequities in digital ICT access. The “digital dividend” is the reassignment of operational frequencies that become available following the switch from analog to digital television broadcasting. The Geneva 2006 Agreement sets June 17, 2015 as the final date for protecting currently assigned analogue television transmission frequencies. The digital dividend spectrum is found between 200 megahertz (MHz) and 1 gigahertz (GHz). It offers a combination of transmission capacity and distance coverage conducive to the extension of wireless broadband infrastructure in rural areas. Using this spectrum, a few stations can transmit with high power, thereby providing Internet coverage to large rural areas where population is low and demand sparse. The advantage is the low capital expenditure required; the downside is the low bandwidth available to individual users. The process is accepted as inevitable, however, and it provides opportunities for efficient spectrum management in rural areas.
How to reassign digital dividend frequencies efficiently remains open to debate. Some advocate the reassignment of analog transmission frequencies to MNOs, without imposing requiring that rural infrastructure investments be tied to urban infrastructure investments (Picot et al. 2010). Others propose allocating the digital dividend frequencies to short-range communications. Countries’ experiences with the crossover to digital television have varied and remain difficult to evaluate, as the process is still unfolding (box 2.5 has an example from South Africa).
Some observers (Nedevschi et al. 2010) have considered CDMA450 a solution to rural connectivity problems (it is used for this purpose in Kazakhstan; see box 2.6). CDMA450 is a cellular technology based on the CDMA2000 standard, with an operating frequency of 450 MHz. The technology uses the same air interface as CDMA2000 but operates at a lower frequency and is able to offer the same basket of high-speed voice and data connectivity over a greater range, thereby implying lower capital expenses. In rural settings, CDMA450 has a range of up to 50 kilometers. Owing to a process known as “cell breathing,” however, such ranges are not achievable under cell loads approaching cell capacity. CDMA450 appears to be best suited to mixed urban-rural deployments, in which urban deployments are capacity-centric and rural deployments are coverage-centric. Another disadvantage of CDMA450 is the large antenna required to allow the extended coverage for meeting low rural demand. The major limitation of CDMA450 solutions is the scarcity of mobile devices that can use the 450 MHz frequency (the majority operate at 900–1800 MHz.
From a user’s perspective, device convergence has two main aspects. First, users can access content in different formats (audio, data, location data, pictures, maps, text) and with different dynamic properties,16 produced by different authors, on the same device. Second, users can take advantage of different options (radio, GSM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, satellite) for accessing that content.
The evolution of appliances in the mobile phone market illustrates these two trends. The discussion that follows focuses on portable devices that support multiple functionalities or multiple connectivity options, because they are vast majority of ICT appliances available in the world today.
Portable devices, including but not limited to mobile phones, are starting to allow users dual (or multiple) mode flexibility. For example, dual connectivity (Wi-Fi/GSM and Bluetooth/GSM) enables mobile phones to conduct both VoIP and standard mobile calls. Dedicated telephone devices are able to process VoIP phone calls using Session Initiation Protocol, as well as regular phone calls using analog signals. Gains in processing power allow functions with higher technology requirements to work on smaller devices (high-end smartphones and Netbook appliances). Conversely, bulkier stationary devices such as the desktop computer have evolved functionalities traditionally associated with more portable devices, such as VoIP telephony and on-demand radio and TV broadcasts.
Among rural users in developing countries, the trend is to move from mobile phones with basic voice and text message capabilities to feature phones. Feature phones are low-end phones that access various media formats in addition to offering basic voice and SMS functionality, capturing the functionalities of multiple ICT devices that are also available as standalone appliances. Rural consumers prefer the combined devices because of their affordability. Features appreciated by consumers in developing countries include digital camera, voice recorder, flashlight, radio, and MP3 player. Bluetooth and general packet radio service (GPRS) are the most widely available connectivity options in addition to GSM. Chinese mobile phone manufacturers tend to be at the forefront of making devices that are particularly affordable and attuned to the needs of rural users in developing countries (box 2.7).
The demand for features tends to vary depending on the availability of complementary rural services. For example, radio is a feature very commonly targeted at the rural market, owing to the traditional significance of radio broadcasting in rural areas. Nonetheless, the choice of radio devices by rural residents is largely determined by the availability of electricity. The radio feature of mobile phones tends to consume the device battery fairly fast. Rural residents off the electricity grid find this feature uneconomical, because the cost of recharge services provided by local entrepreneurs are not negligible. Rural residents at locations off the electricity grid in Ghana report paying 0.50 cedis per charging, comparable to the price for one kilogram of plantains or oranges.17 In agricultural areas such as northern Ghana, solar-powered and windup charging devices have durability and maintenance issues (although they appear useful elsewhere; see IPS “Long Experience in Farm Communities Benefits IFFCO” in Topic Note 2.4).18 By comparison, traditional, battery-powered, dedicated radio receivers appear to be a more affordable choice.
Services entail much more than access to hardware; they encompass affordable access to locally relevant rural content through connectivity providers, content creators and disseminators, information intermediaries, social facilitators, information literacy educators, and the governance channels steering the performance of these services.19 Concerns with rural content have traditionally been alien to public policies aimed at universal service and universal access, but the convergence of the mass media and telecommunications sector, as well as the rise of the information society, make such concerns increasingly prominent and crucial to unleashing a virtuous cycle of ICT adoption and use in rural areas. The delivery of content-based agricultural services is discussed in Topic Note 2.4.
The service layer reflects the synergies (or lack thereof) among network infrastructure, connectivity modalities, access devices, and content. The dynamics of the worldwide content marketplace point to the dying out of traditional communications business models, which centered on tariffs anchored in use time, quantity of data transferred, or communications distance covered. Such models increasingly are replaced by more flexible subscription models and models centered on realized interactions and transactions, paid for via micropayments. In developing countries, where consumers are more price sensitive and less willing to pay, the trend toward micropayments poses a considerable challenge to content and value-added service providers. The challenge is compounded by the marginal success of government and donor efforts to provide content-driven rural services in developing countries.
Traditionally, rural information services focused on providing broadcasting (“push”) content, such as rural radio programming, but the ubiquity of mobile devices enables the sourcing and sharing (“pull”) of rural content. The presence of mobile technology as an authoring tool in rural areas presents an untapped opportunity to engage rural users in authoring content, thereby increasing the demand for existing rural infrastructure. Mobile devices, in combination with broadcasting technologies such as radio, enable rural residents to participate in public discourse and influence decision making. In reviewing communication and media needs at the community level in Ghana, (Dartey 2009) points out that call-in radio programs have become widely popular. Such programs allow Ghanaians to express their opinions on issues of local concern.
The provision of rural ICT-based services in developing countries has a few discernible characteristics. One recurrent characteristic in successful business models is found at the literacy/social facilitation level of the Access Rainbow Framework. Successful business models manage to leverage social networks and social value (UNDP 2008). Engaging rural residents as individuals rather than as beneficiaries appears to be essential in delivering a worthwhile value proposition. Allowing rural residents to be trainers, to facilitate access to content, and to provide local support and maintenance appears to be a successful business strategy for the delivery of rural services.
|Source: John Hogg, World Bank.|
Even though the diffusion of personal mobile phones has eroded the business logic behind well-documented models such as the Grameen Village Phone (an owner-operated GSM payphone) (Futch and McIntosh 2009), the significance of social value remains a key building block of business models aimed at delivering rural ICT-based services. As pricing plans have changed over the past few years, the mobile payphone has become less profitable as a business asset. Even so, the impersonal nature of mobile payphones is instrumental to addressing concerns related to equal access. From the standpoint of public service provision, equal access to public phones continues to be significant, especially for women who cannot afford their own phones or are not permitted to use personal phones of family members (Burrell 2010). The sharing and collaborative use of personal mobile phones can enhance social ties but may also cement social inequalities.
Another trend to be noted is the divergence in focus and targets of local (especially rural) demand-driven information services relative to supply-driven services. Content-focused service innovations tend to respond to local needs within the entertainment, social networking, game, and music domains. If managed carefully, such services can be legitimate drivers of ICT use for demand-driven services in education, public awareness, health, and agriculture. Introducing immediately popular content is a way to attract and retain users. Once the user base is established, there is room for introducing more practical content, such as mobile banking (box 2.8).
Currently, prepaid subscription models appear to be the standard operational mode for providing services in developing-country markets. Yet as Topic Note 2.4 indicates, this strategy may be impractical for rural content providers, given the risks involved in subscription renewal and the high fixed costs of generating relevant rural content.
Trends and Issues
With technology moving toward fixed-mobile convergence, the provision of minimum services (other than telephony) and public access to ICT devices has fallen within the mandate of universal service regulations. This note examines the public sector’s changing and recently expanding role in providing affordable access to ICT infrastructure, appliances, and services, including the growing use of universal access/universal service funds.
Changing Role of the Public Sector
Public involvement in the telecommunications sector evolved in a nonlinear way (Gómez-Barroso and Feijóo 2010). An early monopolistic stage after the Second World War was succeeded by a series of crises in the 1970s as services came to be considered a “public matter” demanding closer government involvement. In the 1980s, the public sector started giving way to the private sector, which was considered better equipped to deliver value and efficiency.
The public sector’s current role in telecommunications can be described as promoting the information society. Governments act as facilitators and enablers of universal access to telecommunications, and the public sector has re-emerged as an active participant in the sector. In both developed and developing countries, public agencies are regarded as partners in funding infrastructure in areas where the incentives for private investment are insufficient; they are also regarded as partners by virtue of their role in encouraging demand for telecommunications. In developing countries, local governments and international development partners actively facilitate access to ICTs at all levels (infrastructure, appliances, and services).
It is within the domain of local government and public administration to provide innovative methods for access to ICTs in rural areas. Effective partnerships and public support are capable of overcoming obstacles at different access layers. Until recently, the public sector was not considered an investor in telecommunications, but under the increasing pressure of the international financial crisis, governments have looked to ICTs as fiscally sound investments relative to other public stimulus options. Investments in broadband and next-generation networks are proving to work as countercyclical tools for creating jobs and as building blocks of long-term economic recovery (Qiang 2010).
Broadening Mandate of Universal Access/Universal Service Funds
The main vehicles for improving access to ICTs in rural areas have been the univeral access/universal service funds (UA/USFs) established in the 1990s. The funds originally offered an opportunity for funding and access to ICT solutions in underserved areas (Hudson 2010). Dedicated at first to increasing the penetration of landline telephone services, the funds now support mobile network development and Internet services in most countries.20
In some countries, such as Ghana and Mongolia, funds are disbursed to aid the provision of rural public access telephony and Internet facilities. Although the expansion of mobile networks has reduced the urgency of public access to voice telephony, arguments based on gender inequality and perceptions of social obligation still favor the provision of public access (Burrell 2010). In allocating UA/USF funds toward services other than voice telephony, some governments specify additional criteria such as the nearby presence of public-access facilities (telecenters, libraries, Internet cafes, and so on).
Since cost-effective technologies for the delivering rural access to ICTs are evolving constantly, it is essential that UA/USFs do not limit their technological scope and maintain technological neutrality. It is advisable for UA/USFs’ tender requirements to specify coverage, bandwidth, quality of service, target price, and so on—but not technology. Rural areas where the profitability of telecommunications services is low can be of limited commercial interest to telecommunications companies. Consequently, the UA/USF levy can run the risk of becoming a simple direct tax on the operator, and a strategic approach is needed to deliver ICT services and “unlock” the potential of UA/USFs (especially in Africa) (UNCTAD 2010).
Public Support for Low-Cost Devices
Unlike public support for the provision of infrastructure, public support for the provision of low-cost devices has experienced considerable criticism. The most prominently instance was government involvement in the One Laptop per Child project (Burke 2006; Hollow 2009; Kleine and Unwin 2009). Yet government efforts to provide low-cost devices persist and are evolving (box 2.9).
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Passive Infrastructure Sharing in Nigeria
Passive infrastructure sharing” is the sharing of nonelectronic infrastructure, equipment, and services at mobile network base stations, including the site space, buildings, towers, masts, and antennas; power supply, back-up batteries, and generators; security; and maintenance. Passive infrastructure sharing is distinguished from “active infrastructure sharing,” which can involve the shared use of electronic infrastructure such as network components (for example, access node switches), radio transmission equipment, and core network software systems (Ghosh, Aggarwal, and Marwaha 2009). Although active infrastructure sharing can raise concerns among mobile network operators, passive infrastructure sharing has become established as a reliable mobile network expansion strategy, particularly for expensive rural sites with high transmission and power costs.
Nigeria has been named one of the telecommunications markets with the most promising potential for growth. Even so, the National Communications Commission has identified several issues as detrimental to this growth, including poor public power supply, poor security, and high operational costs (Onuzuruike 2009). In Gupta and Sullivan (2010) found unreliable electricity and insecurity to be the main challenges to operating mobile networks. These challenges were much more prominent in Nigeria compared to other West African countries with more reliable access to the electricity grid (such as Ghana, Cameroon, and Côte d’Ivoire). Gupta and Sullivan (2010) calculated that costs of fuel for generators, including a minimum of 20 percent of fuel lost to theft, amounted to 60–90 percent of the costs of running network sites in Nigeria. Base station costs in Nigeria add up to US$ 200,000–250,000, 3.5 times higher than in India (US$ 60,000–70,000). Some of these limitations are at last being overcome through passive infrastructure sharing.
Helios Towers Nigeria (http://www.heliostowers.com/homepage) significantly decreases the impact of such issues. In 2005 Helios Towers became Africa’s first independent mobile tower company, enabling wireless network operators to share infrastructure. The organization buys nonelectronic infrastructure at the cell site from telecommunications providers, such as towers and power supplies, or develops new infrastructure where none exists. Telecommunications companies rent space at the towers and access to other elements of the communications infrastructure, sharing it with other providers.
Helios Towers estimates that clients colocating on one of their towers can save over US$ 200,000 in capital expenditures and up to 20 percent in operating expenditures. Helios Towers also provides wireless operators with power, round-the-clock security and access (shelters have typically been subject to vandalism), as well as other services such as installation and maintenance. According to its website, the company’s large-scale and numerous sites allows it to offer a guarantee of 99.9 percent uptime for service users, compared to a 70 percent industry average. Network operators thus improve the quality of service for customers and can pass the associated cost reductions on to them.
The economies of scale that Helios Towers and companies like it generate enable them to provide access in areas where it would not be financially advantageous for other companies, such as the network operators, to do so. Access is increased in rural areas, for example, or areas where power supplies previously were poor.
Helios Tower’s first site went live in June 2006, and since then the company has expanded to include over 1,000 four-operator sites across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones. Through them, MTN Nigeria provides services in 223 cities and towns, more than 10,000 villages and communities, and a growing number of highways across the country. In August 2004, MTN had coverage in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, and their signal reached 80.9 percent of Nigeria’s total population, living in 58.33 percent of its landmass.21 Similarly, through Helios Towers, Zain Nigeria22 (MTN Nigeria’s largest competitor) currently covers over 1,500 towns and 14,000 communities across all six geopolitical zones. Zain was the first telecom operator to serve all of the zones.23 Considerable overlap in the coverage offered by these and other network operators provides significant advantages to end users: The resulting competition lowers tariffs and enhances choice.
The National Communications Commission supported this new business model and developed a regulatory framework for potential colocators. This framework suggests how to share infrastructure to promote fair competition and infrastructure sharing among the telecoms’ licensees. It effectively enables organizations such as Helios Towers to operate with state support and gives network operators a strong incentive to align with such a powerful ally.
The business model developed by the growth of tower management companies such as Helios Towers has helped erase problems faced by operators in operating and managing wireless infrastructure. As Onuzuruike (2009) notes, tower management companies usually enjoy scalable and long-term recurring revenues with contracted annual escalations. They also benefit from low churn rates and low operating and capital costs. Hence they are able to ensure the fair treatment of new entrants while satisfying incumbents (by purchasing their infrastructure and allowing the operators to outsource at a lower cost), at the same time providing more comprehensive service to end users.
Helios Towers depends on wireless operators buying into its service. The company is able to offer a basis for partnership that makes their proposition highly attractive to corporate clients: infrastructure sharing lowers the risk represented by investment in network expansion and upgrades. The company counters the rising price of site rentals by sharing this cost among partners; site owners, in response to the rising demand for provision in underserved areas, have increased their rents, and local government restrictions on new tower construction owing to health and environmental hazards have only increased the attractiveness of passive infrastructure sharing.
To retain its many partners (aside from MTN and Zain, they include EMTs, Starcomms, Reliance Telecoms, and Visafone) and provide comprehensive nationwide service, Helios offers services to the full range of wireless operators: GSM, CDMA, and WiMAX operators utilizing 2G, 3G, and 4G technology platforms. It is also prepared to build towers where there are none, even when it is not financially advantageous in the short to medium term, to improve its network and remain the dominant supplier. As a result, operators can expand into rural markets and other underserved areas while keeping their costs—and, crucially, their tariffs—low.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Turkey's Oligopolistic Infrastructure
The Turkish mobile telecommunications market is dominated by Turkcell, Vodafone Turkey, and Avea (a wholly owned subsidiary of Turk Telekom, the largest telecommunications company in Turkey). Following an agreement announced by Turkcell and Turk Telekom in August 2009, the two companies (and to a lesser extent Vodafone) have made strides to reduce the costs of introducing 3G mobile broadband technology in Turkey through passive infrastructure sharing.24 They have signed contracts with Huawei, ZTE, and Ericsson for this purpose.
This highly interesting development in infrastructure sharing involves competition from both ends of the partnership. Unlike in Nigeria, where Helios Towers enjoyed unparalleled relationships with both Zain and MTN, here the infrastructure managers must fight to retain convivial relationships with their clients. This competitive landscape reflects the business model promoted by Turkey’s regulatory framework.
Turkey’s ICT sector lags its European counterparts in some areas, with declining numbers of fixed telephone lines (27.3 percent of the population in 2000, compared with 24.6 percent in 2007) and slow penetration of the Internet market (2.2 percent in 2000 to 6.3 percent in 2007) but rapid growth in mobile subscriptions (rising from 23.9 percent penetration in 2000 to 83.9 percent in 2007) (Rossotto et al. 2010:229–30). This sector profile reflects Turkey’s young population: 92.9 percent are under the age of 64 (Rossotto et al. 2010:230). This demographic suggests the huge potential of wireless broadband in Turkey, which is why international players such as Vodafone, Huawei, and Ericsson are keen to invest heavily in the country and compete among themselves for market dominance. Because contracts were exchanged only recently (2009), it is still difficult to evaluate the impact of the technology or the competitive business model under which it is provided.25
Regulatory reform of the Turkish telecommunications industry has been a concern. Rossotto et al. (2010) report that regulators seek to promote a fully competitive market sector through plans modeled loosely around the EU framework. Although Turk Telekom (privatized in 2005) dominates the telecommunications industry with its 93 percent market share, this dominance is being most convincingly challenged in mobile communications. Turkcell and Vodafone both enjoy greater market share in this subsector, thanks to the regulatory efforts made to ensure fair competition.
Despite these efforts at promoting competition, a market share analysis demonstrates that the market is moving toward an oligopolistic structure in terms of competition among mobile network operators as well as among infrastructure managers such as Ericsson. This shift is reflected by the highly competitive business models of infrastructure providers, which enable more and later entrants to the market (such as ZTE). The price-competitive business model has also enabled customers to receive services at lower prices: Ericsson, Huawei, and ZTE must streamline their own profits to offer the MNOs maximum cost savings (to gain market share), and Turkcell, Vodafone, and Telekom Turk must pass on a significant proportion of these savings to customers (again to achieve greater market share).
Although the partnership structure that has evolved in Turkey is less convivial than that in Nigeria, it has still been key to implementing 3G technology. The agreement between Turkcell and Telekom Turk to jointly reduce infrastructure costs has been particularly instrumental in avoiding another false start in bringing 3G to Turkey (Rossotto et al. 2010).
The competition among key players in the infrastructure provision industry has ensured comprehensive coverage of the different routes and technologies into mobile broadband: Ericsson’s Converged Package Gateway, for example, is suitable for operators “providing high performance broadband LTE services, CDMA operators moving to LTE, and operators wanting to provide mobility between LTE, 3GPP and ‘non-3GPP’ access networks such as wireless LAN or Wimax.”26 ZTE and Huawei provide similarly encompassing services.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Dabba's Experience with Unlicensed Wireless Services in South Africa
One obstacle to expanding wireless technologies is the unlicensed use of wireless services. The main problem associated with unlicensed multipoint wireless services is interference arising from the operations of other wireless networks within an area. Interference often causes unlicensed wireless services to have much higher error rates and interruptions than equivalent wired or licensed wireless networks (for example, copper telephone, coaxial cable, and mobile networks). For these reasons, unlicensed multipoint services often grow slowly and lose customers; their operators may be required to rethink their business model.
Interference problems have yielded several responses. An organizational response has been to establish voluntary spectrum coordination organizations, entirely independent of government, to coordinate the actions of unlicensed wireless network operators and minimize disruptions through the maintenance of an operator frequency and sources database. Cooperation with the voluntary coordination body is enforced through peer pressure by cooperative operators on uncooperative operators.27
A technology-centered approach to the interference issue is the development of adaptive and mesh network technologies. Adaptive networking improves performance by developing dynamic interference and fault detection and reconfiguration protocols. Mesh networking optimizes quality over routing and the possible paths for the delivery of service to customers. Neither technology is yet capable of delivering high-speed, low-latency, business-class, and reliable local loop service, however.28
As partners of The Village Telco service in South Africa, the company Dabba and the Shuttleworth Foundation in the Orange Farm Settlement provide telephone and mobile access through VoIP wireless routers. Founded by Rael Lissous in 2004, Dabba reprogrammed Wi-Fi routers as base stations and used open source firmware to make up the components of a telecommunications network. Following complaints to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa by the incumbent operator Telkom that Dabba was interfering with its licensed service provision, Dabba’s equipment was seized in February 2009. Dabba has since returned to work with a new business partner, Cisco, the international networking and communications expert.
Dabba is an example of innovation to avoid the high costs typically associated with telecommunication service provision to rural and unserved areas. Wi-Fi enables access to large areas at a low cost, as hot spots with amplifiers can cover ranges of up to 8 kilometers, allowing Dabba to serve entire townships with minimal outgoing expenses. In the densely populated townships, this has proved a winning formula for providing telecommunications to large numbers of people and for passing on the low costs to the end user. Dabba offers free calls within the local network and pay-as-you-go cards for users who wish to place distance calls (avoiding subscription fees).
Initially, Dabba exploited the new regulatory freedom provided by an August 2008 High Court Ruling, which ruled that anyone in possession of a Value Added Network Services (VANS) license (which Dabba held) was entitled to “self-provide” and compete in the formerly oligopolistic market (Esselaar et al. 2010). The market grew from four players to potentially hundreds overnight. Dabba took this relative freedom beyond its regulatory limits, however, and was found to be using ISM (industrial, scientific, and medical) Wi-Fi bands, for which it was not licensed, and using equipment that was not type-approved.29
Such unlicensed use perhaps derived from Dabba’s business model, with its ever-pressing need to reduce operating costs. Dabba adds value for consumers by offering them the least expensive rates (free local calls, pay-as-you-go distance calls, no subscriptions). Cheap service compensates for the lower quality of service that Dabba’s technologies sometimes provide. Although this model enabled Dabba to grow quickly in its pilot area, where customers had little to lose by joining the network, it generated enormous pressure to operate cost-effectively.
This pressure has abated through Dabba’s new partnership with Cisco. Cisco has provided new equipment and support and has provided 100,000 rand to initiate an ICT entrepreneur program, enabling Dabba to expand into two new townships.30 Dabba has also received additional support from the Shuttleworth Foundation, which underwrites all of their work. Dabba can now pursue its original business model while remaining more firmly within South Africa’s regulatory framework.
The lightweight Ubiquiti equipment employed since Cisco’s involvement is inexpensive. It uses solar energy and battery packs connected by locally made antitheft brackets to reduce costs further. This setup, combined with the use of Wi-Fi and wireless mesh networks, make Dabba well-suited to provide coverage for small, local groups and townships, where large, centralized projects could not provide services that most users could afford. Dabba has renewed its operations so recently, however, that its impact remains unclear.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Bhutan's Community Information Centers Adapt to the Geological and Consumer Context
Bhutan’s Department of Information Technology (DIT) has established a series of community information centers (CICs) to provide sustainable, commercially viable ICT services in rural areas. DIT provides all of the equipment for offering CIC services, and the local community provides an individual who is employed to promote and maintain those services. Services available at the CICs include basic and advanced computer training, non-Internet-based games, digital reproduction, Internet, telephone facilities, government information and forms, and lamination and scanning.
In line with the government’s ninth five-year plan, the CICs represent an updated effort to provide rural Bhutan (just over 79 percent of the population) with some telecommunications connectivity. Bhutan’s mountainous, forested terrain (forests occupy nearly three-quarters of its land area)31 have made wired Internet and telephone connectivity prohibitively expensive for operators and end users. The CICs reduce the costs for the end user, who pays on demand only for the services required, and public access through CICs renders service provision more attractive by expanding the customer base. Individuals who could never afford their own personal connection to the telecommunications network may still prove a significant source of income to the CIC, especially when such individuals are considered in the aggregate (villages average 43 households).32
The CIC initiative is still in its infancy; the decision to move from government-owned facilities to commercial, locally managed centers was made in late 2008. Microsoft’s baseline surveys suggest that when access to telecommunications was available, “the population was adept at using the devices and their usage permeated . . . the community.”33 They also suggest that Bhutan’s relatively young population is an indication of the potential impact of the telecommunications sector.
A key factor enabling development of the CICs is that they not only receive strong government support but are in fact government led and organized and in effect also self-regulating. As long as local managers produce a profit and offer the services detailed in the government guidelines, they are free to operate their CICs as they see fit. Running the centers is thus rendered attractive to local entrepreneurs.
This business model of local autonomy underwritten by government support is crucial to the CICs’ success. Some villages are so remote (in extreme cases, several days walk from the nearest road) that only locals can understand the market conditions.34 By international standards, Bhutan’s national media (particularly its newspapers) are weak, and rural service users are likely to have higher levels of trust in local business managers. However, central intervention will be necessary to subsidize the high costs of accessing some rural areas, which is crucial if telecommunications are to reach the population at large. The partnership between local and players and government strikes a favorable balance.
The Government of Bhutan plans to provide a hub-and-spoke network, enabling it to overcome the difficulties associated with placing infrastructure in mountainous and remote terrain. It seeks to provide a network of broadband connection through fiber-optic cables from the capital and out to the 20 districts (dzongkhag) and village groups (gewog). The connection from districts to village groups and on to the villages will be provided by wireless technologies such as GSM. These “spokes” lead to the CICs.35
The enabling factors and lessons surrounding regulation, business models, partnerships, and infrastructure for these initiatives in Nigeria, Turkey, South Africa, and Bhutan are summarized in tables 2.2 and 2.3. Click here for Table 2.2 and click here for Table 2.3.
Trends and Issues
One consequence of improved access to ICT infrastructure, appliances, and services in rural areas may be that rural people will gain better access to financial services and additional sources of income. The telecommunications and microfinance industries have grown rapidly in recent years and are overcoming the traditional challenges of reaching rural and formerly underserved areas. This topic note examines specifically the business models and enabling factors that are making new sources of financing and income accessible in rural areas.
Mobile banking is a logical consequence of the growth of telecommunications and microfinance. In developing economies worldwide, companies have sprung up to deliver financial services outside of conventional bank branches, through mobile phones and nonbank retail agents. A particularly well-known service is M-PESA. Operated by Safaricom in Kenya, M-PESA allows users to transfer money through their mobile phones, without having to register or qualify for a bank account.
M-PESA does not operate in a vacuum: easypaisa in Pakistan, G-Cash in the Philippines, and Bancosol in Bolivia are just a few enterprises that provide some form of mobile financial services to the un- and underbanked poor. One rural bank, Green Bank, has calculated the substantial savings from using mobile technology: By switching from field-based to text-based collection, they reduced their interest rates from 2.5 to 2 percent and their service charges from 3 to 2.5 percent, yet profits rose by US$ 16 for every US$ 400 loan (Kumar, McKay, and Rotman 2010).
The rise of mobile income sources is another trend behind the demand for mobile financial services. In recent years conditional cash transfer programs in many countries have provided government payments to economically and socially disadvantaged households, especially the economically active poor, conditional on measurable actions (for example, enrolling girls in school, obtaining consistent prenatal care, or using agricultural inputs). Telcommunications technology is transforming governments’ capacity to deliver these additional sources of income quickly, reliably, and at a lower cost. It is also allowing farmers to access commercial banks and critical services including credit, savings accounts, and remote transfers even despite distance and lack of local banking facilities.
|Source: Arne Hoel, World Bank.|
Such ventures are united by the goal of enabling the economically active poor to use telecommunications technology to help themselves. Mobile financial and income-generating services such as M-PESA, Zain Zap, easypaisa, and txteagle, discussed in this note, cost little and operate on all handsets, making them advantageous on a large scale, even in more remote rural areas where previous efforts made few inroads. Advances such as smartcards, fingerprint-sensitive ATM machines and market kiosks equipped with electronic point-of-sale devices have also made such programs vastly easier to implement (and more likely to reach the intended beneficiaries).
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
M-PESA's Pioneering Money Transfering Service
Based on a pilot funded in part by public funds from the UK Department for International Development, Vodafone and Safaricom launched M-PESA in Kenya in February 2007 in partnership with Sagentia.36 The M-PESA pilot focused on microloans and repayments, but research indicated that consumers primarily would use the service for person-to-person money transfers.
Following the pilot, M-PESA launched with a person-to-person business model in which customers can buy e-money from agents throughout Kenya. Any commercial space may become an agent, making this model particularly effective in rural areas. Mobile phones are used to perform financial transactions such as sending money to others, paying bills, and even withdrawing cash from an ATM (without needing a bank account). E-money can be cashed in with agents who receive a commission for the services they provide and for registering customers.
M-PESA’s great innovation has been to provide a service accessible to the unbanked populations of emerging economies at a low cost. M-PESA costs users about one-third as much as using a money-transfer company such as Western Union, and it is cheaper still than the banks. Such companies cannot match M-PESA’s low rates because their operating costs are higher (Omwansa 2009:6).
M-PESA now has over 10 million customers in Kenya, and services have been introduced in Tanzania and Afghanistan (called M-PAISA in the latter); a number of other deployments are planned across Africa and Asia.37Success has so exceeded expectations that M-PESA has faced system capacity and cash flow problems. Cash flow problems have arisen internally (as agents are paid to register customers, who take time to become profitable) and at the point of use (agents run out of both e-money and cash). The problem particularly affects rural areas, where people receive remittances from urban workers and withdraw it as cash. To counteract this problem, larger agents now act as “super-agents,” selling e-money and cash to smaller agents.
A Flexible Regulatory Environment
Flexible regulation has been critical to M-PESA’s success. Working with the UK Treasury, the Central Bank of Kenya set up special provisions for M-PESA to launch its product with limited risk to the consumer but without being linked directly to a bank and with relatively low levels of regulation. Subsequently the Central Bank provided informal monitoring as opposed to formal regulation. By the time banks and competitors realized M-PESA’s potential and began to demand its regulation, the firm was already well established and respected. At the urging of the banks, the Central Bank conducted a thorough audit of M-PESA and found it to be fulfilling all its consumer obligations; the Central Bank has therefore continued enabling this special regulatory environment.
The importance of this flexible “proportional risk” system ofregulation is evident in M-PESA’s stalled attempts to operate in India, where regulators insisted on a connection with a licensed bank. In Afghanistan, regulations to prevent money laundering have constrained M-PAISA’s development as a money transfer service, and it operates predominantly as a microfinance service. The need for identification details detracts from M-PAISA’s simplicity and thus its appeal.
A Business Model that Sidesteps the Banking Sector
The M-PESA business model is characterized by low margins and high volumes, whereas banks traditionally need relatively high margins from far fewer people with bank accounts. Independence from the banking sector opened up a huge untapped market for M-PESA: 90 percent of Kenyans did not have a bank account. Although only registered users can initiate transactions, anyone may receive money from M-PESA and withdraw it as cash. This positive nonuser experience was crucial to the user network’s growth. This business model has allowed M-PESA to become the dominant and most attractive network. M-PESA’s low costs have enabled it to challenge money transfer companies and banks even where they are present. Yet over time many M-PESA users graduated to having bank accounts, and M-PESA is now integrated with the banking system.
Partnerships Facilitate Marketing and Technical Operations
M-PESA’s collaborative nature is fundamental to its success. Vodafone, as well as providing the initial funding, holds a coordinating role. Safaricom has provided a brand that many Kenyans trust, and its nationwide airtime reseller distribution network easily transformed into a network of dedicated M-PESA agents, enabling more rapid market penetration. Vodacom undertakes Safaricom’s role in Tanzania (and is its sister company); in Afghanistan, Roshan, a large MNO, has been vital in developing the service. Sagentia (IBM as of September 2009) provided key technical expertise. The use of public funds during the development stage is regarded as crucial for maintaining interest in the telecommunications sector during the pilot, which took longer than expected.
Networks, Appliances, and Infrastructure
Registering with M-PESA requires proof of identity, a SIM card, and the submitting of a PIN. In addition to providing security, another key success factor was the added convenience of the customer being able to retain his or her phone number. Since applications are on the SIM cards, they do not depend on the functionality of the handsets, a factor crucial for making M-PESA financially accessible: M-PESA works on even the most basic and inexpensive handsets. In Tanzania, M-PESA uses USSD technology, which does not require the SIM card to be replaced and allows transactions to be completed in real time without any application stored on the phone.
M-PESA has a widespread and dense network of agents. Kenya had 7,000 M-PESA agents in April 2009 but only 750 bank branches, allowing M-PESA to reach significantly more people, especially rural people, than competitors.38The advantage obtained by being first in the market allowed M-PESA to build the dominant network in its pilot country and become the most attractive network for new customers and businesses (as with companies such as eBay).
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Zain Zap Promotes Borderless Mobile Commerce
Zain Zap is a mobile phone–based banking service.39 As M-PESA’s largest competitor, Zain Zap allows clients to transfer money via mobiles but requires each user to have a bank account. Although registering with Zap is more complicated than registering with M-PESA, Zap offers potential access to a greater number of services. In partnership with banks in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, Zap provides platform access to financial services to people without a nearby bricks-and-mortar bank.
Zain Zap has differentiated itself from M-PESA by innovating along international lines, operating across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda without subjecting users to additional fees, administration, or regulation. It forms part of a wider Zain Network, called One Network, which provides international mobile coverage without the expensive rates usually associated with cross-border communication. Before Zap, Celtel (now Zain) introduced a competing product soon after the launch of M-PESA, but the product’s very different pricing structure caused it to be withdrawn due to low demand.
In 2010, Zap expanded to Niger and Sierra Leone, and it has a pilot scheme in Malawi. Zain claims Zap is now the most comprehensive mobile commerce service in Africa, with over 150 million customers. This claim suggests significant impact in some of the world’s most unbanked populations, particularly in rural areas without physical bank facilities. Zain eventually plans to roll out Zap in all 24 countries in Africa and the Middle East where it has mobile networks. If regulation permits this growth, Zain’s infrastructure leaves it better placed for such expansion than M-PESA.
Thriving within Regulatory Constraints
Zain’s expansion has been checked by regulatory constraints: Zain operates in Lebanon and Zambia without One Network because it has not yet received governmental approval in these countries. However, Zain makes good use of its various partners to ensure that national and international banking regulations are met, and the company seems happy to operate within this framework. Zain works with the National Bank of Malawi and NBS bank in Malawi, Eco-bank in Niger, and Zenith Bank in Sierra Leone. In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, Citibank and Standard Chartered work in partnership with Zain.
A Business Model Seeking to Balance Availability and Accessibility
Zain’s business model treads a fine line between widespread availability and accessibility. Its interaction with banks and its provision of mobile banking opportunities to all its dispersed customers allow greater possibilities for the business to grow in rural areas, as small-scale business owners gain access to financial services they previously lacked. Zain’s only source of revenue comes from a fixed fee for every transfer made through Zap, however. It does not attempt to make money on deposits or withdrawals but recommends a fee to agents, who are then free to charge as much as they like. This practice could lead to very high prices for customers, especially until other agents appear.
Partnerships with Big Banks and Big Clients
Non-Zain mobile operators can buy a place in the service: In November 2009, Egypt’s Mobinil joined, adding 24 million customers to the platform. This practice aids international expansion and allows for the inclusion of local expertise in the business model. As well as partnering with large-scale banks, Zain has also signed deals with large corporate clients such as Coca-Cola and Kenya Airways to allow users to pay for these companies’ products through their mobiles.
Networks and Infrastructure
The primary factor in Zap’s successful development is that it belongs to Zain’s One Network, the world’s first borderless mobile service. According to Zain’s corporate website, One Network offers over 90 million of Zain’s (and partner mobile operators’) customers relatively inexpensive rates, free of high roaming charges for cross-border communications. One Network not only aids rapid expansion by giving Zap a pretargeted customer base, it also offers consumers large incentives to join Zain’s network and use its services (over others, such as M-PESA).
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Pakistan's Tameer Microfinance Bank for the Economically Active Poor
Tameer Microfinance Bank describes itself as “one of the first nationwide, private sector, non-NGO transformed, commercially sustainable microfinance institutions in Pakistan.”40 A majority share is held by Telenor Pakistan. Tameer has produced an innovative hybrid of M-PESA and Zain Zap’s services for the economically active poor in Pakistan.
With its new easypaisa service, Tameer matches M-PESA’s ability to reach the unbanked. Currently, easypaisa is available to pay utility bills, but it plans to expand into sending and receiving money within Pakistan and receiving money from abroad. As with M-PESA, customers do not need a bank account and can access the service from a variety of portals, including their mobile phones. Tameer also operates as a bank much as Zain’s Zap platform does, although not through partnerships with other banks. Since it became the first bank to gain a branchless bank license in Pakistan (2008), it has been able to offer loans, deposits, overdrafts, insurance, and domestic remittances.
Tameer’s innovations are notable for their focus on entrepreneurs and the self-employed. Their aim is to actively generate income in underserviced, frequently rural, areas, often by freeing customers from moneylenders and their prohibitive interest rates. Prior to Tameer’s penetration of the market, such moneylenders were generally the only option for small-scale businesses in need of cash. Tameer loans have been used to buy new equipment, buy raw materials when they are cheapest, enlarge or purchase new property, and provide insurance against business failure. As such, they represent a strong opportunity for income generation in underbanked areas. Though Tameer largely operates through bank branches at present (despite its branchless banking license), and thus favors urban areas, the rise of its easypaisa service looks set to counteract this imbalance.
Since its commencement, Tameer has disbursed more than 3.5 billion rupees (Rs), with an active portfolio of Rs 1.4 billion and over 80,000 loan customers. The total customer base of Tameer is over 170,000; it employs 1,100 staff.41
A Business Model Benefits from Microfinance Regulation
As CEO Nadeem Hussain noted, one of the major enabling factors for Tameer was the SBP 2001 Microfinance Ordinance, which regulates the creation of commercial microfinance banks. Tameer argues that unless microfinance is financed through commercial sources, it will remain in the realm of development aid and its growth will be limited.42For this reason, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor has been involved with branchless banking regulation in Pakistan from the beginning. Regulation has allowed the use of retail stores as agents.
Regulation also made it possible for bank and telecom operators to enter into a business model conducive for commercial success. The two partners offer those services that each is best placed to deliver: Telenor acts as a distribution arm for branchless banking, organizes channel management and retail setup, and hosts the technology and operation of a call center that provides customer service and complaint handling. Tameer is responsible for operating accounts, creating ledgers, reconciliation, fund settlement, risk, and compliance and fraud investigations.43
In May 2010, Tameer joined with Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), Pakistan’s largest national telecom solution provider. PTCL will provide network connectivity to all of Tameer’s outlets. This provision of centralized connectivity has been one of the key enabling factors in easypaisa’s success and, crucially, has allowed them to provide easily accessible, low-cost services.
Networks and Infrastructure
Tameer’s large agent network allows customers to access services in a number of ways: via mobile phone, easypaisa authorized shops, Telenor franchises, Telenor sales and service centers, or Tameer Microfinance Bank branches. Like M-PESA, Tameer uses USSD, so customers do not need new SIM cards to store the application. This lowers the cost of signing up to the service even further. Tameer does offer new SIM cards for purchase, however, on which the Tameer application has already been uploaded.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Txteagle Taps a Vast Underused Workforce
A large, global, and reasonably educated workforce remains underused because of poverty and isolation, especially in rural areas. With the rapid penetration of telecommunications in developing economies, Txteagle believes this situation can change, particularly as more economies launch payment platforms like M-PESA. Txteagle is a mobile phone-based SMS server application that takes tasks from corporate clients (such as Nokia and Google), breaks them down into multiple microtasks, and sends them out for completion to registered users. Targeted users are the rural poor in developing economies, who, through their mobile phones, supplement their incomes with these microtasks. Tasks include translation, image sorting, and audio transcription. Txteagle is similar in some respects to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which also divides up tasks, but differs in that it distributes them by mobile phone, a technology with a higher penetration rate.
Txteagle operates primarily in East Africa, where it relies on technologies such as those developed by M-PESA, but it also sends work to users in Asia and the developing economies of the Americas. In areas not covered by payment platforms such as M-PESA, users are paid in airtime credited to their mobile phones.
Txteagle’s impact is unclear because the company is still in its start-up phase. Given the growing number of subscribers to wireless phone technology (more than 1 billion people in the developing world had a mobile phone in 2006),44 technologies such as txteagle have the potential to enjoy great success. If txteagle can maintain and expand its systems capacity, it has the potential to extend its workforce in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, as the market for mobile phones expands rapidly in such areas as rural China and India.
An Outsourcing Model Outside the Regulatory Flow
Txteagle operates fairly unconstrained by regulation because it is classified as a financial creditor, rather than as any form of banking or microfinance institution. This setup gives txteagle a great deal of flexibility in its business model and where it operates, enabling rapid international expansion. As clients become more diverse, this operational flexibility will become a key asset, as txteagle will need workers with different languages and skills sets.
Txteagle’s business model enables outsourcing at a lower cost because of savings in office-based costs and its access to a previously isolated workforce. Low costs and a guarantee of quality (clients pay only for adequately completed work) attract corporate clients
Adapting to Partners’ Needs
Txteagle partners with a number of providers of wireless services, such as Safaricom in Kenya, Telefónica México in Mexico, MTN across Africa and the Middle East, and Viva in the Dominican Republic. As it relies on these partners to provide its service, txteagle is eager to adapt to their needs, from configuring the txteagle platform to operate only during off-peak times, to providing assistance to their customer support teams. This situation has led to worries that txteagle could prove exploitative unless well regulated.
Network and Infrastructure
A key enabling factor in txteagle’s business model is its Accuracy Inference Engine (AIE), which, once tasks have been broken into microtasks, can monitor user performance. The AIE platform is a set of computational routines that can dynamically predict which available workers will be most likely to complete the given task successfully, correctly infer when the job has been satisfactorily completed, and differentially pay workers in proportion to their level of contribution, all to within a 99 percent confidence interval of accuracy.45The firm also uses a database that monitors and records user performance. As the system learns more about the capabilities and expertise of its individual users, it updates the algorithms used to assign tasks to make the service as efficient as possible.
Mobile phones have the potential to provide low-cost banking wherever there is network coverage, but the use of mobile banking services has been held back because mobile banking services and microfinance institutions often play quite different roles that prevent them from leveraging their full potential. There is a wide variety of mobile services; some do not involve banking licenses and are therefore nonbank implementations, while others may involve banking partners. Mobile banking companies such as M-PESA primarily work with money transfers and payments, using some of the most advanced infrastructure available. By contrast, microfinance institutions tend to focus on credit and savings, and use less advanced technologies. A marriage between the two can produce commercially attractive coverage of the market, as seen with Telenor and Tameer Microfinance Bank, but such partnerships can be difficult to source and sustain. Indeed, in the future, traditional banks may also find themselves trying to deliver these services.
The emergence of competition in the sector (such as between M-PESA and Zain Zap) has begun to erode differences in the roles of mobile banking services and microfinance institutions, however. In May 2010, M-PESA joined with Equity Bank in Kenya to produce its most integrated product yet: a low-cost, low-entry microsavings account called M-Kesho. It hopes to provide its 9.4 million users with accessible bank accounts, which will allow them to hold savings and take out microinsurance and microloans, all managed from their mobile phones.
The competition between Zain Zap and M-PESA in particular highlights interesting considerations for the future. With network-based firms such as eBay and Wikipedia, the more dominant a single network becomes, the more attractive it becomes to new users (because it is the most comprehensive), and it compounds its success. Should either Zain Zap or M-PESA win the battle for dominance in Kenya, the winner could offer a more comprehensive and more widely accessible service. The ensuing lack of competition could raise prices, however, cutting off access to the poorest sectors of the community. The regulation of competition between these networks will determine the shape of the industry—and of commerce in Kenya—in the future.
M-PESA has benefited from relative regulatory freedom to become a comprehensive mobile financial service provider and harness the negotiating power of Equity Bank. If such innovations are to spread, regulators must walk a fine line between allowing the freedom for such ventures to become commercially attractive and the constraints to ensure that they do not exploit the people they aim to help. Chile’s congress has only just approved a law demanding network neutrality, guaranteeing that Internet service providers cannot interfere with content accessed by Internet users. As Chile is among the most progressive of the Latin American and other developing economies in its governance of Internet use, its position demonstrates the great strides regulators must take in this emerging area, if mobile and Internet technologies (such as mobile banking) are to become widely and equitably accessible.
One of the biggest challenges for regulators is to find a balance between delivering the financial services that meet inclusion targets and at the same time combat fraud and terrorism. The temptation is always to overregulate, to err on the side of safety. The World Bank has been working to create guidelines for services such as money transfer to encourage them to operate under tough regulation.
Apart from these regulatory issues, service users have demonstrated the wider applicability of the technologies involved by manipulating them to their own advantage. Bancosol in Bolivia, for example, has implemented a partial use of the technology by providing SMS information services before committing to full mobile banking. The Rural Bankers’ Association of the Philippines has made GXI’s G-Cash service possible in rural areas by grouping 60 rural banks to act as agents and to use G-Cash to pay their employees. Alone, these banks were too small to be commercially interesting to the mobile service, but through collective action they have become a significant business proposition.
Customers have found moneymaking opportunities in these financial services of which their founders did not dare to dream. M-PESA’s users have translated access to secure money transfers into innovative income-generation opportunities, often in rural areas. By transferring primarily to M-PESA-based payments, users enjoy the safety of being able to travel without cash and have reduced service times (customers no longer fumble about with change). The growth of the network of agents has created a large numbers of jobs, many in the rural areas in which M-PESA, and institutions like it, flourish.
Trends and Issues
The value of knowledge in the world economy has grown with increased technological innovation in distributing information and greater incorporation of information in economic activity. As developed economies become increasingly knowledge and service based, developing economies (agricultural or industrial) must be capable of communicating in and using the language of knowledge if they are to be economically active on a global scale.
The spread of telecommunications technologies over the past decade has outpaced the spread of Internet technologies, which require more costly infrastructure, particularly for rural users. In India, for example, mobile technology has reached over 30 times as many people as the Internet.46Because much of India, like many developing economies, remains predominantly agricultural, thought has turned to using mobile technology for the benefit and service of agriculture. Rural economies lose billions of dollars each year because critical information is inaccessible: information on production practices, information on impending extreme weather or epidemics, or information that could enable farmers to transport crops more effectively to markets and sell them at better prices.
Reuters Market Light (RML) offers farmers information on crops, diseases, and market prices, as does the subsidiary group of the Indian Farmer’s Fertilizer Co-Operative, Kisan Sanchar Limited. This trend toward mobile services for farmers is seen throughout developing economies. Prominent examples include the Agricultural Market Information Systems in Bangladesh, Farmer’s Friend (a Google product) in Uganda, and Ovi Life Tools by Nokia. The latter started off in partnership with RML in India but wanted to offer a wider range of information. It now provides education and entertainment services and has rolled out in Indonesia and China as well as India.
|Source: Simone McCourtie, World Bank|
This sourcebook describes a number of efforts to benefit from mobile telecommunications in agriculture. Two of the examples discussed below are also discussed in Module 3 (RML) and Module 6 on AIS (Farmers’ Friend), yet they are reviewed here to highlight technical considerations in delivering content and services that rural users value. IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited and RML have been implemented through a variety of platforms and business models, with voice and text-based platforms being the primary competing modes of delivery. Farmer’s Friend differs from those services by using Google’s experience as a search engine to provide an on-demand service and a database that may be searched in the same manner as the Internet.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
First Mover Advantage Benefits Reuters Market Light
Reuters Market Light (RML) is a subscription-based SMS service providing Indian farmers with information that helps them increase productivity, maximize revenue, manage risk, and reduce waste. The service, launched in late 2007, provides localized and personalized information on commodity prices, crop cultivation (covering 17 crops), and the weather.47Mobile telecommunication was the obvious platform for providing this service, as India has one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world, with over 427 million mobile connections. By contrast, there are only 37.5 million landline connections and 13.5 million Internet subscribers.48
The predominance of agriculture (which employs slightly more than half of India’s 523.5 million strong workforce) gives Reuters a large potential audience. As of February 2010 it had more than 200,000 subscribers in 15,000 villages across 10 states. Supply chain and information failures cause Indian farmers to receive about half of the value of their crops that their Western counterparts do (20–25 percent). If the service helps farmers to resolve these problems, the potential benefits for farmers are large.
Regulation: Freedom to Develop Its Business Model
RML used its first mover advantage in India to become a trusted network—a necessary strategy given that their main competitor, IKSL, is active in rural areas through its links with the IFFCO farmer cooperatives. Active support from the government has given RML relative freedom to develop its business model.
The subscription-based business model allows RML to derive a steady and regular flow of income, allowing for future planning toward expanding the service. The lack of reliable address databases prevents sales staff from locating farmers and consolidating the customer base. Another drawback is that the subscription fee makes RML expensive relative to on-demand services (like those provided by Farmer’s Friend in Uganda, discussed later). A survey of 1,000 households in 100 villages by the South Asia Sustainable Development Agriculture department in the World Bank found that only around half of RML users planned to renew their subscription. Of those who had not signed up to the service, 95 percent cited cost factors as the reason (G. Dixie, personal communication).
In response, RML has enabled post offices across the states covered by Reuters to provide the information service to unregistered users. This adjustment in its distribution platform makes the service available to those who do not own a mobile phone as well as those who wish to try the service before they commit. The postal network has been crucial for RML’s presence in rural areas and the growth of its user network.
Partnerships with Multiple Operators Offer Scalability
RML’s regulatory freedom is complemented by partnerships with multiple operators, which frees the system’s content from dependence on any single network and is crucial to the scalability of the business. The links with the post office are a valuable asset for RML’s distribution network. RML is discussing a more formal association with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research or Punjab Agricultural University, which contribute some of the service’s crop information.
Network, Appliances, and Infrastructure
RML is “network agnostic,” meaning that it is not constrained by the limitations of any one MNO, and its service has SIM rather than handset functionality. Information is provided by SMS and therefore can be accessed from the most basic handsets, even those only possessing text capabilities. This delivery format contrasts with that of RML’s former partner Nokia, whose Life Tools uses voice recordings instead of text-based communications and thus requires mobiles to be GPRS enabled (adding to their cost and decreasing their accessibility).
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Long Experience in Farm Communities Benefits IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited
IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited (IKSL), another information service for farmers, is a joint venture between the telecom network operator Airtel and the Indian Farmer’s Fertilizer Co-Operative Limited (IFFCO, from which the initiative takes part of its name). In addition to crop advice and the weather, IKSL provides advice on animal husbandry, rural health initiatives, and the availability of products such as fertilizer. Unlike RML, IKSL’s information arrives via voice rather than text message.
Users access the service through traditional wired technology based at kiosks at rural cooperative societies throughout India. The kiosks are supplemented by mobile technology: Mobile phones are sold bundled with the Airtel mobile network, which essentially converts the phones into personalized communication kiosks. Members of the service receive five free voice messages a day with agricultural information and advice; they also have free access to a dedicated agricultural help line. IFFCO has around 40,000 societies, is present in 98 percent of India’s villages, and brings a receptive audience to the enterprise. This extensive coverage and wide farmer base gives IKSL the potential to make a significant impact on agricultural communities.
IFFCO is clearly attuned to making its products and services accessible to rural people. Mobile phones are accompanied by a hand-cranked charger. This innovation is crucial, given the scarcity and cost of power in much of rural India. IKSL’s wired information kiosks can be operated through pedal power. These adaptations ensure that the service is not a drain on a highly limited resource and should permit its wider use.
Regulation for Quality and Compliance with Standards
IFFCO is subject to high levels of regulation owing to its dominant presence in the fertilizer trade, which is regulated by the government. To ensure compliance with the standards set for IFFCO as an organization, IFFCO’s off-shoots are regulated by an in-house Representative General Body made up of members of the Board of Directors and representatives of the larger member societies in every state/territory.49 To ensure quality, Kisan Sanchar is assessed by experts from the agricultural universities, and peer reviews are conducted by panels of scientists.50
A Business Model to Deliver More Diverse Agricultural Information to an Extensive Rural Base
IFFCO has branched out from its original business as a fertilizer cooperative into many other areas, and it has a great deal of experience in growing new businesses in rural India. The partnership between IFFCO and another large company, Airtel, has been crucial to success. As one of the largest MNOs in India, Airtel can provide cellular connectivity to areas where it is not financially advantageous (an example is the Aruku Valley in the Visakhapatnam District). Access at cooperative societies, facilitated by IFFCO, is also crucial to the success of IKSL, because new users can try the service before they commit to it, allowing for the growth of the network. This capacity ensures that IKSL achieves maximum coverage and consumer awareness.
In this way IKSL’s business model carefully navigates between the steady income of a subscription service and the value added for the consumer by offering flexibility. Users pay Rs 47 to activate the mobile service, which lasts a lifetime, and then 50 paise per minute for calls between IFFCO members (the rate is slightly higher for calls to nonmembers). Membership comes with five free daily messages, as noted.
ISKL’s information is more diverse than that available from by RML, although it is still centered on agriculture (for example, farmers can obtain information on fertilizer and farming equipment and limited information on rural healthcare). In offering a more comprehensive service, IKSL may be attempting to combat the first mover advantage of its nearest rival.
Network, Appliances, and Infrastructure
The innovation is SIM rather than handset dependent but does not work on the most basic handsets unless they are updated. IKSL hopes the kiosks will counteract this problem. The prices of the phones used in the pilot—made by Sinocell and sold for about Rs 4,000—would deny the poorer segments of the population access to the technology, but Alcatel, Philips, and Samsung have developed less expensive models that may solve this problem. IKSL also has the potential to develop a suitable phone. The voice recordings are provided in all local languages where the service is provided, a key enabling factor in the challenge to increase access.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Farmer's Friend Offers Information on Demand, One Query at a Time
Farmer’s Friend is a Ugandan mobile phone application by Grameen Foundation’s AppLab. Working with MTN Uganda as its MNO and using the Google SMS search platform, it provides information on demand for farmers. In addition to weather forecasts and agricultural advice, Farmer’s Friend forms part of a wider initiative that includes health tips, a clinic finder, a Google trading service for agricultural commodities, and other products.
This innovation differs from RML and IKSL in that it is not prepaid; the system is a search engine, and the user pays for each query at the point of purchase. Customers text their query and location and receive a nearly instant reply. The service is currently free from Google, but customers are charged by their network operator for each query. Pilots demonstrate significant uptake of the AppLab’s services: the 10 SMS applications that were trialed generated more than 54,000 inquiries among their 8,000 respondents.
Farmer’s Friend also generates employment among farmers, some of whom are hired to collate data and pictures of sick plants on local farms. They provide Grameen with more comprehensive information and the potential to offer for better advice.
Farmer’s Friend launched at the end of June 2009. Like many efforts initiated recently in rural areas, its impact is not yet apparent. The service has the potential to achieve significant penetration in rural areas because it can leverage MTN’s network of over 10,000 village phone and other shared phone operators, as well as all of the privately owned mobiles.
Farmer’s Friend’s regulatory framework is derived from that of its parent organizations. Google adheres to US Safe Harbor Privacy Principles, is registered with the US Department of Commerce’s Safe Harbor Program, and works with appropriate local regulatory authorities, primarily local data protection authorities.51 The service self-regulates through its guidelines and maintains that it is “ready to assist any government that wishes to seriously work to create an enabling environment.”52 The Grameen Foundation has criticized the very loose regulatory framework surrounding Farmer’s Friend.
A Business Model Designed to Increase Access
Farmer’s Friend’s business model is specifically designed to increase access. The service works on the most basic handsets. The organization’s membership in a much wider platform (which includes Google Trader and health advice) ensures a broader base of awareness in the community and further opportunities to develop brand loyalty. The pay-on-demand system increases access because the financial commitment is far smaller than with subscription models; RML membership lasts an average of five months (Preethi 2009). Farmer’s Friend users can return to the service at any time.
An Array of Strong Commercial and Noncommercial Partners
A key enabling factor of the initiative has been its marriage between strong commercial and nonprofit partners. The nonprofit Grameen Foundation increases access to technologies. As well as using the search expertise of Google and the network coverage of MTN Uganda (Uganda’s largest MNO), Grameen receives agricultural information from the Busoga Rural Open Source Development Initiative, a local NGO that collects local farming expertise from networks of farmers. Weather reports are provided by Uganda’s Department of Meteorology.
Networks, Appliances, and Infrastructure
As noted, the services work on the most basic handsets and are not handset specific, but users need to be part of the MTN Uganda network. To widen its distribution network, Grameen is trying to establish Village Phones in rural Uganda. As mentioned in this overview, this service, successfully used by Grameen in Bangladesh, involves public pay phones run by local entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur obtains a loan to buy the equipment and profits from reselling the services the phone offers. Farmer’s Friends expects to establish 5,000 Village Phone operators over time. Each is expected to serve as many as 2,000 people, greatly enhancing Farmer’s Friend’s prospects for growth. (See IPS “Community Knowledge Worker Initiative in Uganda” in Module 4.)
Table 2.6 recapitulates the factors enabling farmers to receive agricultural information through the increasingly accessible mobile phone services in rural areas—whether the information arrives through personal or shared phones. The lessons learned so far from the new services are summarized in table 2.7. (Click here for table 2.6 and table 2.7.)
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- 2 “Universal access (UA) describes when everyone can access the service somewhere, at a public place, thus also called public, community or shared access. . . . In general there would be at least one point of access per settlement over a certain population size” (Dymond et al. 2010).
- 4 ICT use intermediated by skilled users in the rural community.
- 6 Layer number 4 in figure 2.1.
- 8 GSM standards for 2G cellular networks serve an estimated 80 percent of the global mobile market, according to the GSM association (http://www.gsm.org/).
- 10 “Infrastructure sharing” is a mechanism for reducing capital expenditures and operating expenditures. Passive infrastructure sharing consists of colocating competitors. Active infrastructure sharing consists of sharing the network base station controllers, both circuit-switched and packet-oriented domains, mobile services switching center, GPRS support node, and so on.
- 12 Cross-ownership restrictions prevent operators, such as telephony operators, to control competitive network infrastructure, such as cable television networks. For example, restrictions may be placed on the simultaneous control of telephony and cable television network infrastructures in a specified area.
- 14 2G mobile wireless has basic functionality: voice and short messaging service (SMS); 3G has advanced functionality: general packet radio service; and 4G has broadband functionality: long-term evolution (LTE).
- 16 Such as “online” and “offline” content; “online” content is communicated but not recorded or reusable (such as a radio broadcast),whereas “offline” content is recorded and reusable, once it has been communicated (such as audio podcasts, SMS messages, or voice mail).
- 18 Details available from the authors.
- 20 The objectives of UA/USFs can be at very different stages of development and maturity. Hudson (2010) reviews key lessons related to UA/USFs’ management, professional capacity, size of funding, and expanding mandate. Stern, Townsend, and Stephens (2006) recommend the accelerated, simplified, and diversified use of UA/USFs. UNCTAD (2010) discusses in detail the challenges and opportunities for financing ICTs in rural areas of developing countries through UA/USFs.
- 22 In 2010 Bharti Airtel of India completed the acquisition of the Zain Group in a $10.7 billion deal (Pan 2010), which included ownership of Zain’s assets in Africa (network operations in Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Zambia, and Uganda). In these countries, Zain operations are currently known as Bharti Airtel. This section maintains references to Zain Nigeria.
- 24 “3G in Turkey: By Sharing Infrastructure?”, Developing Telecoms, August 12, 2009 (http://www.developingtelecoms.com/3g-in-turkey-by-sharing-infrastructure...) , accessed July 2011.
- 26 See http://www.ericsson.com/ourportfolio/telecom-operators, accessed July 2011.
- 28 The source for this paragraph is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wireless_local_loop.
- 29 “ICASA defends Wi-Fi equipment confiscation in South Africa,” Balancing Act, Issue 443, February 27, 2009 (http://www.balancingact-africa.com/news/en/issue-no-443/internet/icasa-d...), accessed June 2011).
- 30 “Low-cost phone and voice operator bounces back with entrepreneur support from Cisco,” Balancing Act, Issue 451, April 23, 2009 (http://www.balancingact-africa.com/news/en/issue-no-451/ top-story/low-cost-phone-and-v/en, accessed June 2011).
- 31 Tobgyl (n.d.:3).
- 32 Tobgyl (n.d.:4).
- 33 Bhutan Department of Information Technology, “Microsoft Unlimited Potential Baseline Survey on So-cio-economic Demographics and Information Needs,” (http://www.dit.gov.bt/content/microsoft-cic, accessed July 2011.
- 35 Ministry of Information and Communications (Bhutan), “Vision for Information Society” (http://www.moic.gov.bt/pdf/Vision%20for%20information%20Society.pdf, accessed July 2011), p. 10.
- 37 Safaricom statistics, June 2010 (http://www.safaricom.co.ke/index.php?id=1073, accessed June 2011).
- 38 See “M-PESA power: Leveraging service innovation in emerging economies,” M. Barrett, M. H.S.A Kim, and Karl J. Prince (2009). Case study and teaching note, available through www.ecch.com.
- 39 After the 2010 acquisition of Zain Group’s African assets by Bharti Airtel, the Zain Zap platform has been rebranded as Airtel Money. Bharti Airtel mobile network operators from Africa maintain their participation in the One Network, alongside Zain mobile network operators in the Middle East.
- 40 Tameer Microfinance Bank (http://www.tameerbank.com/about.htm, accessed April 2010).
- 42 Easypaisa, (http://www.tameerbank.com/ceomsg.htm, accessed April 2010).
- 44 Tryhorn (2009).
- 46 Prakash and Velu (2010).
- 48 Prakash and Velu (2010).
- 50 “Content Management” (http://www.iffco.nic.in/iksl/ikslweb.nsf/ef05d07df0ecee65652575040037b37..., accessed July 2011).
- 52 http://www.grameenfoundation.org/recommendations-creation-pro-microcredi..., p.6.
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