Three out of every four new mobile phone subscribers are now in the developing world. This monumental shift has created a unique population of hundreds of millions of off-grid mobile phone users who don't have access to basic necessities like energy or water, let alone essential services like banking. Thanks to mobile phones, however, they have access to a distributed infrastructure through machine to machine technology (M2M) that can enable access to these vital services. That's what new GSMA research is telling us, and the implications are too exciting to ignore.
Let's start with the basics. The rural poor lack access to just about everything. From basics like energy and water to inclusion in the financial system, their lack of "connectedness" to the world inhibits their escape from poverty. Until now the solution to this problem was to invest large sums in centralized infrastructure to enable it to extend out to these communities. The problem is this approach is not only top down and ineffective it also is really expensive and contributes to problems of corruption, mismanagement, and environmental degradation. But mostly, it just hasn’t worked.
Mobile phones have famously bypassed traditional infrastructure efforts to enable connectivity to even far-flung communities through the creation of a distributed network of off-grid cell phone towers. This distributed infrastructure flies in the face of decades of traditional policymaking and its squandered investments. More importantly it offers opportunities to change course that entrepreneurs, NGOs, and policymakers must seize.