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Mobile for Development Utilities Focus Areas – Technology & Innovation

How mobile innovations support access to community services

Mobile technologies are increasingly becoming part of the models that Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) and Water Service Providers (WSPs) are using in their solutions and services. The factors that contribute to this are:

  • Ubiquity of mobile networks in emerging markets: Mobile networks have become the predominant infrastructure in many emerging markets (see GSM Population Coverage). An estimated 411 million people globally are today without access to energy but covered by GSM networks, and 165 million people globally are without access to clean water but covered by GSM networks.
  • Maturity and cost decrease of Machine-to-Machine (M2M) solutions: M2M technology has matured considerably in recent years through the development of innovative business models in several vertical industries (automotive, utility, consumer products, etc.) and through increased interest by operators  in providing M2M services as well as a decrease in hardware and network costs.
  • Decreasing Cost of Ownership of Mobile Phones: mobile handsets have become increasingly available and affordable thanks to the development of low cost models.
  • Development of mobile micro-payments: At the end of 2012, there were more than 30 million active mobile money subscribers worldwide.  Mobile money services for the unbanked are gaining traction globally when the right conditions to growth are present: conducive regulation, operator commitment and a strong agent network.

 Mobile Technologies

There are three types of mobile technologies the Mobile for Development Utilities team is tracking and researching:

1. Mobile Payment Technologies

Pay As You Go (PAYG) systems and innovative payments schemes enabling payment flexibility and microfinance capability for the deployment of decentralized utility systems – payment technologies include mobile money services (e.g.  M-PESA), SMS payments or airtime billing.

2. Metering and Monitoring

GSM-enabled meters allow for remote monitoring of a household or a community utility system (e.g. solar panels or water pumps supporting remote operation, improving maintenance times and improving understanding of user’s behaviour.  GSM Connectivity also allows systems to be controlled remotely, an important function of Pay As You Go systems. 

3. Mobile Platforms & Services (Voice, USSD, SMS, Application)

Mobile platforms and services leverage the pervasiveness of mobile phones in rural and underserved locations. For example, communities or utility agents within the community use mobile applications, SMS or USSD menus to report on the products systems’ status while on site. These services also create two-way communication platforms between the micro-utility and their users, enhancing consumer feedback loops and better channelling of information to local communities.


Unlocking a New Market: Ultra-Low-Cost M2M Opportunities and Barriers to a New Mobile Frontier, Nick Hughes, M-KOPA, February 2013

Sustainable Energy & Water Access through M2M Connectivity, Michael Nique and Firas Arab, GSMA , January 2013

Service over Technology: Defining the Role for Mobile in Energy Access, January 2013 MECS White Paper