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By Michael Nique

New GSMA Report on Sustainable Access to Energy & Water through M2M Connectivity

Women and children gathering to fetch water in the Koar Village, East Senegal. A solar powered telecom tower in the background provides mobile connectivity to the village.

Over the past year, the GSMA Community Power from Mobile team has researched and documented the emergence of new ventures and academic projects leveraging GSM Machine-to-Machine (M2M) connectivity for Energy and Water service delivery in emerging markets.

The report published recently entitled Sustainable Access to Energy & Water through M2M Connectivity is the result of this research and aims to shed light on the opportunities created by M2M solutions to reach and empower underserved populations in the developing world.

The same way SMS messages have become one of the building blocks of modern communications in emerging markets, simple GSM M2M connectivity could create seamless networks of connected infrastructures and devices beyond wealthy urban circles. In underserved urban and rural locations (2.47 billion people were living with less than USD2 per day in 2008), M2M connectivity has the potential to bring more resilience to decentralized systems often plagued by poor maintenance and will allow to collect critical information about the population who use them. It is also about creating two way communications platforms, where end users are connected to their service providers through the systems they are using, at a personal or community level; it is about building stronger relationships between institutions and households often living without access to sustainable energy, clean water and/or financial institutions.

Some key facts from the report:

  • From urban to rural areas, mobile networks have become the predominant infrastructure in emerging markets, allowing more people to be covered by mobile networks than have access to energy and water. GSM infrastructure is increasingly reaching far corners of the world, mobile handsets are increasingly getting into the hands of low income population (even though there remains room for growth [1]) and M2M modules can be more easily integrated in a wide range of equipment.
  • If service delivery remains critical to commercial success and sustainability, technology can surely support business models and empower customers. In the M-KOPA example, the convergence of GSM M2M connectivity for remote monitoring of Solar Home Systems and mobile payments through the M-PESA platform is allowing low income population to afford clean energy solutions under a Pay As You Go model.
  • Mobile technology has a social impact, especially when it is the only available infrastructure. Considering water access in Africa, where there are important problems of maintenance and sustainability of water pumps, the inclusion of M2M connectivity in simple water pump structures would increase real time information about water access and quality at the local and national level.
  • Beyond pilots and nascent commercial deployments, some challenges remain for entrepreneurs providing M2M-based services to better reach the full population lacking access to energy and water. As an important element to achieve scale in resource constrained economies, a section of the report is focusing on the opportunity to design a new GSM M2M module: a simpler module design integrating lighter functionality and achieving lower cost would stimulate the integration of M2M in a wider range of products.

Opportunities and challenges lie ahead, as the success and the scale of such M2M based services at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) will require active participation from chipset suppliers, entrepreneurs, mobile operators, regulators. M-KOPA, currently providing Pay As You Go solutions for energy access in Kenya, presents at the end of this report, their in-depth testimony about the challenges they envision in increasing the impact and scale of M2M services for the BoP.

In this coming year, the GSMA will continue its efforts to raise awareness around the potential and challenges of M2M solutions for underserved populations, connect main stakeholders to catalyse market growth and support innovation from micro-entrepreneurs in this space.

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