GSMA Research Shows Off-Grid Charging Solutions for Mobile Phones to Power US2.3bn Market Opportunity

Nearly 500 million mobile users – more than 10% of global subscribers – in emerging markets will benefit

A new report released today from the GSMA, entitled Charging Choices, has revealed a US$2.3 billion* opportunity for mobile operators through the provision of off-grid charging solutions such as solar phones or external solar chargers in emerging markets. Following extensive research, the GSMA’s Green Power for Mobile (GPM) programme, who commissioned the research, estimates there are 485 million mobile users without access to the electricity grid, a factor which severely limits usage opportunities. The report identifies a range of charging choices available that, if implemented effectively, will extend service availability and could boost average revenues per user by 10-14%.

“We are extremely excited that operators are able to provide people in off-grid areas with solutions to power mobile phones, as this will not only improve quality of life and access to information but can also act as a unique and significant opportunity to fuel economic growth,” said David Taverner, GPM Programme Manager, GSMA. “The figures we used to calculate the market size of off-grid charging solutions were on the conservative side, so the actual benefit to mobile operators could in fact be much greater than the US$2.3 billion we are estimating. This preliminary market overview is the start of what the GSMA believes will be an important area of industry growth in the coming years.”

“Mobile networks are increasingly being deployed in rural areas of emerging markets, where consumer access to the grid is at best limited and unreliable and in many cases non-existent,” said Windsor Holden, Principal Analyst, Juniper Research.   “As Juniper Research has observed, usage will in large be dependent on consumers being able to charge the handset through alternative methods, and solar-powered chargers in particular could become a key means of facilitating reliable access to mobile services in these markets.”

“This GSMA’s Charging Choices report is the most comprehensive document I’ve seen on the emergence and necessity for alternate mobile power solutions in the developing world,” said Tom Bryant, VP global distribution, Digicel.

“Providing people in off-grid areas with the means to power their mobile phone is one of the last hurdles to bringing mobile services to the emerging markets,” says Paul Naastepad, CEO of Intivation. “We have been involved in this area for several years and with interest gathering momentum, now is the time to give the concept a push so that it can reach its full potential: providing cheap and ubiquitous power to millions of mobile users in emerging markets.”

The research has found that there is significant interest in off grid solutions – 60% of mobile operators interviewed already have or are exploring off-grid charging initiatives – but there is  currently only limited understanding about the full scope of options and the associated social and business benefits. Pioneers Digicel and Safaricom, however, have demonstrated how the consumer, the environment and the mobile operator can reap the benefits of off-grid charging solutions. Charging Choices provides initial exploration into alternative charging options and examines the types of solutions currently available on the market.

As part of its GPM programme, the Development Fund conducted the study over a three-month period from June through August 2009. It included extensive desk research to identify emerging vendors, their products, and other players in the field, and dozens of interviews and surveys of mobile operators and vendors covering 50 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The GSMA Development Fund launched its GPM programme in September 2008 to extend mobile beyond the grid, with two primary objectives: to systematically reduce diesel consumption by mobile operators through the promotion of renewable energy technologies and energy efficient base stations and to remove the barriers to handset charging in off-grid regions. The programme has recently been recognised by the Clinton Global Initiative for its exemplary approach to accelerating solutions that address climate change, and has been profiled in its 2004-2008 commemorative publication, “Action Speaks Louder than Words”.

* The market opportunity is calculated by taking the 485 million people, at an average ARPU of US$4 (GSMA estimate, based on Wireless Intelligence data) and an increase of 10%, on annual basis

About the GSMA
The GSMA represents the interests of the worldwide mobile communications industry.  Spanning 219 countries and territories, the GSMA unites nearly 800 of the world’s mobile operators, as well as more than 200 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset makers, software companies, equipment providers, Internet companies, and media and entertainment organisations. The GSMA is focused on innovating, incubating and creating new opportunities for its membership, all with the end goal of driving the growth of the mobile communications industry.

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The full video interview can be found on Mobile World Live: