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Friday, February 23, 2007

Expanding Rural Access - The Case for MicroTelcos

By Rob Katz

Vietnam LMI VillageOver the past ten years, significant progress has been made across the globe with regards to the expansions of mobile telecommunications. This explosive build-out has been the direct result of market liberalization activities launched by a growing number of countries. Today, in most countries in the world, the number of mobile phones is greater than traditional land-line based phones ? a statistic that represents perhaps the greatest BOP success story.

According to the World Bank, we are "not far from achieving global connectivity" in terms of mobile phone networks. Yet even with expanded mobile coverage, it is still estimated that world-wide approximately a million remote villages are without connectivity and will be for the foreseeable future. Within these villages live an estimated 1.5 billion people. And this is just for voice. When Internet access is factored in, the gap between developed and developing countries grows, and those living in rural communities are even more marginalized.

Over the past three years the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Last Mile Initiative (LMI) has undertaken projects in approximately 30 countries. Out of this collective experience, there are a number of lessons being learned with regards to technology and business models that show significant promise for reaching these remote villages. These incorporate the use of Satellite-WiMAX-WiFi-Internet-VoIP in such a way as to minimize costs, maximize revenue, and provide affordable access.

Last November, we posted a set of preliminary Working Papers developed by Darrell Owen that captured his thoughts and insights on a range of LMI-related topics. With this blog, I am posting a recently completed White Paper by Darrell on the theme of Expanding Rural Access. This While Paper pulls together the earlier materials and experiences into a more cohesive presentation. Further, a complementary PowerPoint slide presentation is also being posted that follows the structure of the White Paper, but drops down in more detail in selected areas, including network diagrams and some photos of the Vietnam LMI project.

These materials lead to a logical position that there is a viable approach for adopting a nationwide initiative that can be successful in reaching virtually all rural communities not simply through a phone or a Telecenter, but through a community-level microTelco that delivers broadband wireless Internet and voice services throughout the community.
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