Move to bring mobile PCOs to rural areas

Thomas K. Thomas

Rural plans

GSMA

working with the Indian operators to evolve business model

It has

been able to bring down cost of setting up shared infrastructure from $300 to $35 per unit.

Singapore, Oct. 18

In a bid to increase rural telecom penetration, the GSM Association Development Fund is in discussion with Indian cellular operators, including Airtel, Hutch and Idea Cellular to replicate the successful model adopted in Bangladesh by Grameen Phone.

The project involves setting up GSM-based mobile PCOs and Internet kiosks in rural areas that can be shared by the village community similar to the Government-sponsored village public telephony and Internet dhaba schemes on fixed line telephones.

Business model

GSMA Development Fund has already conducted pilots with Airtel and is likely to announce the launch of shared access to voice with Idea Cellular this month. Speaking to

Business Line

at the 3GSM Congress, Ms Dawn Hartley of GSMA Development Fund said, "We are working with the Indian operators to evolve a business model for the rural areas. We have been able to cut down the cost of setting up such shared infrastructure from $300 to $35 per unit."

GSMA fund is using Motorola's emerging markets handset that costs about $20 and loads software on the SIM that turns the handset into a mobile pay phone. Operators will tie up with local entrepreneurs to offer a `business in a box' that contains everything required to start a shared access, including the modified handset, solar power-backed charger and training material. The Fund has undertaken similar projects in South Africa, Kenya and Algeria.

Operators are also embarking on setting up Community Information Centres based on GSM technology, which will enable rural consumers to access high speed Internet. The set up of a GSM connected Internet centre requires a PC and a GSM modem.

Pilots are being planned for such community centres.

The Fund was formed a year ago by all the global GSM operators to look at finding ways to promote cellular phones. It has also developed bio-fuels for powering mobile base stations. An Indian technology company ACME is in talks with the GSMA for offering hydrogen-based cell fuels.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 19, 2006)
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