The utility services gap
Currently 1.3 billion people1, nearly 18 per cent of the world’s population2, are without access to energy; 748 million people, 9 per cent of world’s population, do not have access to ‘improved’ water resources3 and 2.5 billion people, nearly 35 per cent of the world’s population, lack access to improved sanitation4.

The challenges to providing universal access to utility services includes last mile distribution, operation and maintenance costs and payment collection. Furthermore, as urban growth stretches the limits of existing and antiquated infrastructure, millions more people across emerging markets are increasingly living with intermittent and unpredictable supply of basic utilities services.

How can mobile help?
The GSMA sees an opportunity for the mobile industry to help solve these challenges in emerging markets. How? As mobile connectivity extends beyond the reach of the electricity grid and central water and sanitation infrastructure 5, more people now have access to the mobile network than to basic utility services.

Globally, it is estimated that 643 million people have access to the mobile network before they have access to energy and 262 million people have access to the mobile network before they have access to an “improved” water source.


Figure One: The Evolution of Mobile Coverage and Subscriber Penetration vs Access to Energy, Water and Sanitation (2000 – 2015)

The size and the reach of the mobile industry’s infrastructure, distribution channels, mobile payments and technologies, offer new pathways to achieve improved access to utility services to underserved communities.

The Mobile for Development Utilities Programme
Mobile for Development Utilities (M4D Utilities) encompasses any energy, water and sanitation service provided to a community which includes a mobile component, whether it is voice, SMS, USSD, mobile applications, machine-to-machine (M2M), mobile money, NFC or a mobile operator’s agent network or tower infrastructure.

Objectives and Activities
M4D Utilities aims to seize the opportunity, leveraging existing mobile technology and infrastructure to enhance access to affordable and reliable energy, clean water and improved sanitation services in underserved communities of emerging markets.
The team seeks to accomplish this goal by achieving the following objectives:

  • Raise awareness through knowledge sharing and convening, and publication of market sizing reports, case studies and business case development
  • Stimulate productive partnerships with mobile network operators and tower companies to conduct feasibility studies and establish trials
  • Develop a network of energy, water and sanitation service providers, academics, NGOs, governments, mobile industry players, donors and investors working in the sector.
  • Accelerate innovation and development of promising mobile technologies and business models through the M4D Utilities Innovation Grant Fund
  • Develop relationships with and provide technical assistance to investors and entrepreneurs in order to implement best practices and support long term success for mobile-enabled utilities services


Figure Two: The Evolution of the Mobile for Development Utilities Programme

How did the Mobile for Development Utilities Programme come about?
The Mobile for Development Utilities programme builds from the strong foundations of its predecessor, Community Power from Mobile (CPM) and its sister programme, Green Power for Mobile. The team leverages the lessons learned from CPM, the technical strengths of the GPM team (now part of Digital Inclusion’s Network Infrastructure and Policy workstream), and its relationships with GSMA members and contacts within the energy, water, sanitation, social impact and entrepreneurship space.

Get in touch with the team

2. IEA
5. An improved sanitation facility is defined as one that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact

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