Universal access to energize mobile phones

Posted on February 21, 2013  /  0 Comments

Universal access was discussed in “Networking Revolution: Opportunities and Challenges for Developing Countries” of the World Bank in June 2000 as follows:

In low-income countries, however, the focus should be on providing public access to services. The only realistic objective in the short term is therefore to achieve “universal access”, whereby everyone would be able to access a public booth in every town, village or vicinity or within “reasonable” distance. What “reasonable” distance actually means, what services are to be provided at every public booth (telephone, e-mail, real-time Internet), and which of these services are appropriate at what level in the hierarchy of towns and villages, will very much vary from one country to another, depending on potential demand and ability to pay for these services. The scale at present runs from access to 2 Mbps high-speed Internet lines for every home in Korea to a telephone within (distant) walking distance in some African countries.

That was 13 years ago. Today 75% of the global population has access to mobile phone and it has grown from less than 1 billion in 2000 to more than 6 billion. And nearly 5 billion of them live in the developing countries. Most of them, however, don’t have access to power grid. It challenges them to energize the mobile handset. A “dead” phone halts people’s livelihood and dries the operators’ earnings as well. According to a report of Cellular News:

Globally, more than 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity and there are 600 million mobile phone users living off-grid who spend an estimated $10bn a year on charging phones using petrol generators and car batteries. Vodafone is estimated to have over 100m off-grid subscribers worldwide. In Tanzania, only 14 percent of the 46m population are connected to the electricity grid.

A ReadySet pilot in the Pwani Region of Tanzania in 2012 found the device to be an enterprise opportunity for small business owners, including Vodacom Tanzania’s 40,000 M-Pesa agents. A commercial initiative, this is expected to increase mobile use for some of M-Pesa’s 4.5 million Tanzanian subscribers and boost revenue in off-grid areas. The pilot saw airtime vendors and M-Pesa agents offering ReadySet charging increase airtime sales and SIM registrations, with a 14 percent increase in average revenue per user.

There is, however, a historical bottleneck. Jack of the mobile power-cord and charging socket attached to mobile phone are yet to be standardized. In October 2009, the ITU gave its stamp of approval to an energy-efficient one-charger-fits-all new mobile phone solution initiative of GSMA. It said:

Every mobile phone user will benefit from the new Universal Charging Solution (UCS), which enables the same charger to be used for all future handsets, regardless of make and model. In addition to dramatically cutting the number of chargers produced, shipped and subsequently discarded as new models become available, the new standard will mean users worldwide will be able to charge their mobiles anywhere from any available charger, while also reducing the energy consumed while charging.

It is yet to happen. Stalwarts at the Government Mobile Forum in Barcelona may discuss it next week.

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