Enabling partnerships between mobile operators and utility service providers in Asia Pacific

On 25 September, the Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities Programme hosted a Mobile Operator Roundtable alongside the GSMA Mobile 360 – Digital Societies event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. With participation from ten mobile operators and 3 utility service providers, the key objective of this roundtable was to promote partnerships between them, to improve utility services for the underserved by using mobile technology. It is, therefore, the continuation of our regional engagement from the Asia Industry Forum in Sri Lanka, earlier this year.

Participating operators included Axiata Group, Telenor Group, Mobitel Sri Lanka, SingTel Group, Jazz Pakistan, Ncell Nepal, Dialog Sri Lanka, Celcom Malaysia, Banglalink Bangladesh and Telenor Myanmar. From utility service providers, there was, Drinkwell, Center for Intelligent Systems & Networks Research (CISNR) and Entrepreneurs du Monde, all of whom participated in the roundtable.



The roundtable offered participants an open forum to discuss the different digital utility business models being trialled in Asia, with a special focus on electricity smart metering, pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar and digital water ATMs. Insights from Dialog’s smart meter project in Sri Lanka, Jazz’s line-loss reduction project in Pakistan, Entrepreneurs du Monde’s PAYG pilot in Philippines and Drinkwell’s water ATM project in Bangladesh encouraged other participating operators to trial some of these services in their market. Operators were given the chance to ask questions and discuss each of the business opportunities. Some of the take-aways from the discussion were as follows:

1. For mobile operators, building partnerships with centralised (grid) utility companies can be tough.

While sharing their experience on building partnerships with centralised utilities, both Dialog Sri Lanka and Jazz Pakistan revealed that partnering with these often state-owned utilities, can be a difficult and slow process. If starting from scratch, it could take anything from a few months, to sometimes years, to sign an agreement. Pre-existing relationships and trust between mobile operators and utility providers can be an important factor in moving faster. Given that centralised utilities provide access to a large customer base, if an operator is able to bring the right technology, service and business model, there’s a great chance that the partnership will bring significant value for all.

Dialog Sri Lanka has been working with Lanka Electricity Company (LECO) for three years now to develop and trial pre-paid, smart-metered electricity services in Colombo. After a successful pilot, they have recently commercially launched the product. Jazz Pakistan, jointly with its technology partner, CISNR, failed in their first attempt to launch a similar service with Karachi Electric (K-Electric), due to a change within K-Electric’s senior management and lack of active interest by the new management. However, they later partnered with Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO) to launch this service, with a focus on reducing line-losses in low-income areas. The initial results from this pilot are encouraging. In both cases, Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology plays a key role in improved grid monitoring.

Ultimately, partnerships between MNOs and centralised utilities – two large organisations with very different mandates, ways of operating, and regulatory considerations – can take time to build and evolve. It’s therefore important that mobile operators plan their investments in digitising utilities with longer business horizons.

2. Safe, affordable and accessible drinking water for low income, urban communities is still a big challenge in many Asian cities

Drinkwell operates water ATMs at 94 locations in low-income communities across Dhaka, Bangladesh. In this model, each of the water ATMs are co-located with Dhaka WASA’s (Water and Sanitation Authority) deep water pump. The water, which comes from Dhaka WASA sources, is treated on-site and dispensed using a digital water tap that can be remotely monitored via ethernet cable or GSM as back-up. In order to use the water ATM, users are required to register using their National ID and a BDT 200 deposit. Users are then provided with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) based ATM card which can be refilled by the Water ATM caretaker through an NFC based smart phone and in-house recharge app. Drinkwell recently integrated with Mobile Money platform, bKash, to try a cashless recharge system for users.

Their operating model and successful scale-up attracted the attention of several participants in the roundtable. Participants from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines mentioned the need for similar drinking water services for their respective countries especially for urban poor as drinking water is a major challenge for many of the cities in their operating geography. While sharing their experience, Drinkwell mentioned that working with Dhaka WASA, the largest government-owned urban water and sanitation utility provider in Bangladesh was very difficult at the beginning. From concept to implementation took over a year. However, given that the Bangladesh government endorses digitalisation with great importance and Dhaka WASA leadership were very keen to improve their service, the project scaled quite well with the support from all stakeholders. Their current success of serving around 30,000 registered users across Dhaka helped them to secure another contract to deploy an additional 300 water ATMs in Bangladesh. Robi Axiata is their mobile operator partner providing data, voice and SMS services. Robi is also providing tracking service to maximise the efficiency of O&M (operation and maintenance) resource mobilisation and fault rectification.

M4D Utilities grantees at the Mobile 360 – Digital Societies IoT Innovation Summit

On day three of the GSMA Mobile 360 – Digital Societies event, an exclusive day-long session on IoT was hosted by the GSMA Technology team. Two of our M4D Utilities grantees presented IoT use cases in the utility sector on the main stage.


Dr. Indika Samarakoon, Head – M2M/IOT Strategy & Partner Management at Dialog Sri Lanka presented the morning key note around the values IoT created for the vertical sectors.


Ali Fahd Ahmad, Head – B2B Marketing at Jazz Pakistan and Dr. Gul Muhammad Khan, Director of CISNR presented on enabling line-loss reduction at grid level utilities using mobile enable IoT services.


The GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities programme will host similar sessions at future Asia Pacific events to support the continued development of mobile-enabled utility services. Feel free to email us at m4dutilities@gsma.com for any support we can provide in facilitating utility service provider and mobile operator partnerships.

The GSMA Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities programme is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), USAID as part of its commitment to Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development and supported by the GSMA and its members.

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