Why it matters
SDG 9 aims to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation. It also seeks universal and affordable access to internet in the least developed countries.
The industry contribution
Mobile technology contributes to SDG 9 significantly both as a provider of critical infrastructure and as a catalyst for other sectors. Connectivity enables industrial processes and manufacturing to utilise enhanced technological advancements. Moreover, the industry fosters the research and development of cutting-edge technology and pioneers services enabled by the low latency and high bandwidths that technologies such as 5G provide.
Build resilient infrastructure and Improve industrial processes
Target 9.1: Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and transborder infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all.
Target 9.2: Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and, by 2030, significantly raise industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, and double its share in least developed countries.
Technologies such as IoT, M2M, cloud computing, big data analytics and AI play a significant role in Industry 4.0, (Industry 4.0 refers to the ongoing transformation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices combined with the latest smart technology e.g. smart factory, cyber-physical systems etc.) improving manufacturing efficiency and sustainability. Mobile internet can also be a critical part of a connected manufacturing environment, considering that the economic impacts of mobile are greater in countries with relatively larger service and manufacturing sectors. Enabled capabilities such as object tagging and internet-to-object communication are also vital for capturing data in real-time, while cloud computing offers computing and storage power reduction for digitally enhanced manufacturing.
For example, mobile operator China Unicom offers governments and industrial and transportation customers an LTE-based measurement and control method for an unmanned aerial control solution that reduces costs, improves efficiencies and removes any distance and altitude constraints usually found in traditional point-to-point communications.
In many LMICs, mobile connectivity (i.e. 2G/3G/4G) also provides critical infrastructure and a platform that allows MSMEs to grow by reaching bigger markets. In India, for instance, where mobile is the dominant access technology, firms that trade through the Alibaba platform have become more export-focused, reaching customers in up to 40 countries. Furthermore, a lack of access to credit can hinder MSMEs from reaching their full potential; in Sub-Saharan Africa, firms that use mobile money have easier access to bank loans as well as overdraft facilities.
Australia: reducing asset loss through effective tracking
Each year, Australian industrial businesses lose nearly $4.3 billion of physical assets, including $1 billion of shipping equipment and mobile storage. This is caused by operational inefficiencies (e.g. misplacing large and expensive items) and the use of manual trackers and stocktaking processes. Additionally, on average 55 hours are spent searching for items in a given year. For instance, STC Logistics was losing 3% of its wagon each year, each costing an average of AUD100,000.
Telstra’s Track and Monitor solution combines IoT connectivity with analytics software in the cloud, with the IoT network covering almost 4 million square kilometres. It uses LTE-M for critical assets and Bluetooth for lower-value assets. STC Logistics uses Telstra’s solution to track non-powered assets across Australia and has added LTE-M solar-powered trackers to rail wagons and trailers.
It is estimated that the solution has helped SCT Logistics save AUD3.8 million a year, based on tracking 1,500 wagons. This also enables the company to deliver its assets in a timely manner and avoid delays. The time saved from searching for lost items also delivers benefits for the business. SCT Logistics is also working with Telstra Labs to use AI to analyse the many terabytes of location data it is now generating to further improve the efficiency of freight movement and yard optimisation.
Providing universal and affordable access to mobile internet
Target 9.C: Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries by 2020.
Growth in mobile connectivity enables individuals to access an array of life-enhancing services, especially in hard-to-reach rural areas. 2G population coverage (97%) is almost universal, while 3G coverage increased from 83% in 2015 to 92% in 2019, covering an additional 940 million people. 4G coverage increased from 55% in 2015 to 85% in 2019, covering an additional 2.5 billion people, while global 5G coverage is forecast to reach nearly 45% by 2025. Despite these gains around half the global population (3.8 billion people) is still offline, mostly in LMICs. This ‘usage gap’ between coverage and internet adoption shows that closing the coverage gap alone is not going to be enough to connect the unconnected, and addressing other barriers such as affordability, digital skills, relevance and safety and security will be critical.
Of the 7% of the global population without 3G or 4G coverage, regional disparities remain. For example, Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than 40% of the uncovered, particularly those living in rural and sparsely populated areas. The economics of reaching rural populations and not-spots is challenging, with remote deployments over 35% more expensive than urban deployments. However, operators and other providers are exploring innovative technologies to provide universal coverage. For example, in Zambia, MTN has added more than 200 commercial rural network sites across its footprint through the deployment of Open RAN technology in not-spots and is aiming to reach 5,000 sites in rural areas across its 21 operations.
Ghana: Connecting the unconnected in remote locations
Mobile broadband (3G or 4G) coverage in the developed world is now almost ubiquitous. However, in Ghana 4.44 million people are not covered by 3G networks. In order to extend network coverage in rural areas in a sustainable manner, capex and opex need to be lowered to ensure there is an adequate return on investment (RoI). The traditional approach of deploying macro-sites that provide wide coverage and have large upfront and operating costs is not always suitable for covering rural areas, where villages are sparsely distributed and populated.
Huawei’s RuralStar is a lightweight rural network coverage solution supporting 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity. Rather than using satellite or microwave backhaul, RuralStar introduces a more affordable non-line-of-sight (NLOS) wireless backhaul technology with 10–40 km reach via a cellular relay, linking connectivity from a ‘donor’ site (i.e. an existing macro-site). The NLOS backhaul also makes it possible to build the base station on guyed poles (9–24 m in height), rather than on high towers. Using a combination of lightweight infrastructure and accurate population mapping of rural settlements without mobile coverage, MTN Ghana targeted isolated settlements.
The solution increases the RoI of network expansion and unlocks the business case for connecting remote communities. MTN Ghana reduced capex on average to 30% of typical micro-site capex and opex to 14%. The solution is especially relevant to emerging market geographies with challenging terrains e.g. mountains, desserts or islands. The NLOS backhaul makes the site lightweight, reduces its physical footprint to 2 x 3 m and allows for concrete-free foundations. It also removes the need for machinery; only a small truck is required for transporting the equipment, which reduces the cost and time for deployment. It took MTN Ghana less than 10 days to deploy a cell site, from delivery to set-up. By October 2018, MTN Ghana had deployed 300 RuralStar sites.
Maximising impact by 2030
Enablers that could help maximise the mobile industry’s impact on SDG 9 include the following:
- Accelerating internet adoption and broadening its use to ensure demand for mobile internet creates a healthy return on investment.
- Licensing sufficient and affordable spectrum, especially the digital dividend, while removing barriers such as sector-specific taxes and complicated planning approval processes for new base stations.
- Providing competition policy and regulatory frameworks that are clear, proportionate, tech-neutral and predictable to encourage investment in high-quality mobile networks.