GSMA Urges Operators to Leverage Innovative Solutions for Rural Rollout

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Director General of the GSMA, Mats Granryd

Emma Okonji

GSMA, which represents the interests of global mobile operators has stressed the need for telecoms operators to take advantage of innovative solutions to enhance rollout of telecoms services in rural communities within sub-Saharan African counties.

Director, sub-Saharan Africa for GSMA, Mr. Gerald Rasugu, who gave the charge during an interview with THISDAY Newspapers in Abidjan, Côte de Ivoire, expressed worry about the wide margin that exists between rural communities and urban cities in the area of mobile services rollout.

He also raised the alarm on the wide gender gap in the usage of mobile devices in sub-Saharan Africa.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, we have seen a huge gap between the men and the women in the usage of mobile devices to access the internet, and the poor rollout of telecoms services in rural community, but the GSMA is working hard to address the anomalies. Telecoms operators must therefore take advantage of innovative solutions to address rural connectivity challenges.

“At GSMA, we have programmes that focus on rural connectivity, which seeks to increase access to internet connectivity among sub-Saharan dwellers,” Rasugu said.

According to him, “We have since discovered that mobile operators find it extremely difficult to rollout services in rural communities and the cost of rollout in rural communities is higher than that of urban cities.

“So what we did in Tanzania was to bring together all the mobile operators including the country’s regulator, and we discussed the possibility of rolling out mobile services in rural communities in Tanzania at very low cost model.

“We agreed to assign a region in the rural areas to each operator and they will allow their customers to roam services among each regional operator and through that initiative, we had a regional roaming concept which worked out very well. What we did was to split the cost of rollout of among telecoms operators and within a year, we saw the return on investments.”

He further explained that the same method could be applied in other sub-Saharan Africa countries including Nigeria, where rural connectivity and rollout pose some forms of challenges to telecoms operators.

The other thing the GSMA is doing under the connected society programme, is to have a low-cost model that can work for all networks in the rural areas. We identified mobile operators who were interested, and through our selection process, we identified a company that has the expertise in rolling out networks in rural areas, and we provided the company with a grant that would help it work with the mobile operators to rollout networks in the rural areas, Rasugu said.

He added that the GSMA is currently working with two mobile operators, MTN Uganda and Vodafone in Ghana, for the connected society programme, with plans to extend it to Nigeria, Côte d Ivoire and other sub-Saharan Africa countries. “We have already presented the proposal in Nigeria and other African markets, but Uganda and Ghana embraced it first,” Rasugu said.

In order to further drive connectivity in rural areas, Rasugu explained that GSMA developed Internet Skills Training Toolkit, which is open for adoption by any mobile operator that are within the GSMA membership scope or even outside of its membership scope, including Facebook, Google, to train endusers on how to use the mobile internet, while using any language.