Mobisol: ‘Electrification is more than lights’ – An innovative approach ensuring smartphone affordability for rural African communities

January 11, 2018 | Connected Society | Sub-Saharan Africa | Rwanda | GSMA

This post was guest-authored by Henrik Axelsson Lilja, CEO, East Africa at Mobisol Group. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the GSMA.

In the past years, Rwanda has been repeatedly praised for its efforts to raise the land-locked nation to a competitive knowledge economy by investing in modern communication infrastructure. However, while the capital Kigali has benefitted greatly from enhanced communication technologies, the remoter rural areas of the Rwandan countryside still lack behind. In many rural areas Internet access is still difficult to obtain, and especially the rural population often does not have access to the financial means, knowledge and logistics of acquiring a smartphone that would provide Internet connectivity.

Although Internet packages provided by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are available throughout Rwanda, barriers to connectivity persist: Preconditions for the use of Internet enabled handsets are being able to a) charge them – which can be difficult in rural areas with low electrification rates – and b) purchase smartphones, which requires access and a substantial upfront investment for rural households.

Off-grid solar provider Mobisol tackles the energy access challenge by distributing high quality solar systems to rural customers, made affordable by payment plans enabling customers to pay off their electricity source over four years via mobile money. Mobisol’s solar systems are large enough to power entire homes or microenterprises, and the systems come with extended warranties and comprehensive customer services – thus guaranteeing a sustainable and reliable electricity source. This is an important factor for the use of smart phones that run a range of apps that require a continuous supply of electricity.

At the same time, Mobisol has recently introduced a solution for the second challenge – the affordability of smartphones. In Rwanda, Mobisol has started to offer customers to purchase a high-quality smartphone on an instalment basis. The package includes free data bundles provided by MTN during the loan period. New customers that buy the phone as part of their solar system pay an incremental fee per month over the loan period, making the purchase highly affordable and by that the smartphones accessable. Mobisol is able to provide their customers with a simple sign-up procedure as they have already proven their credit worthiness and the likelihood of default is drastically reduced by Mobisol’s ability to temporarily remotely disable their solar system.

At the same time, Mobisol has recently introduced a solution for the second challenge – the affordability of smartphones. In Rwanda, Mobisol has started to offer customers to purchase a high-quality smartphone on an instalment basis. The package includes free data bundles provided by MTN during the loan period. New customers that buy the phone as part of their solar system pay an incremental fee per month over the loan period, making the purchase highly affordable and by that the smartphones accessable. Mobisol is able to provide their customers with a simple sign-up procedure as they have already proven their credit worthiness and the likelihood of default is drastically reduced by Mobisol’s ability to temporarily remotely disable their solar system.

Looking forward, Mobisol plans to cooperate with other smartphone retailers, MNOs and further stakeholders, such as NGOs and startups utilizing apps, within East Africa. Being able to access Mobisol’s reliable and continuously expanding customer base can provide decisive advantages for those looking to expand their reach within the rural Africa population. At the same time, students, households and entrepreneurs can greatly benefit from the merits of connectivity by being able to use the Internet and utilize the swiftly growing range of mHealth, educational and business apps. This way, rural communities’ quality of life, educational levels and economic opportunities are elevated by a combination of reliable solar energy – and affordable connectivity and Internet access.

Read our latest report to find out more about other smartphone ownership initiatives, and the ecosystem landscape and business models that drive affordable smartphone access here.

 

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