As an initiative of Tata Communications, Next 3B has a role to play within the telecommunications industry to start conversations about what we can do together to empower the next 3 billion people to come online. Mobile service providers are key to ensuring that people in the developing world have connectivity and access to data plans that are scaled with their needs in mind.

The biggest conference in telecommunications is Mobile World Congress, held annually in Barcelona, Spain. This year the event brought together over 100,000 attendees from 204 countries and territories.

MWC Panel - Rangu Salgame

As part of the conference program, Rangu Salgame CEO, Growth Ventures and Service Provider Group at Tata Communications was invited to speak on the Innovating for Inclusion panel. Next 3B partner representatives Puja Saraiya Abid from Brightstar and Mark Kaplan from Tone joined Rangu along with Irfan Wahab Khan from Telenor Pakistan.

Telecom and the next 3 billion

MWC Odisha video

The session opened with a video from our Odisha workshop, helping to set the tone for how innovating for inclusion can transform the lives of these women.

Rangu Salgame introduced the idea behind Next 3B to the mobile professionals in the room by explaining that 300 million fewer women than men have mobile phones in developing nations. By ignoring this segment, the industry would miss a huge opportunity for social, business and economic change. He posed the question that Next 3B seeks to answer: How can we get women online and bring livelihood services to them? Helping women to be financially independent through empowering tools will have a huge social impact and will bring economic change.

But it’s not without challenges.

Stories from the field

MWC Puja AbidRecounting one story from the Indian workshop, Puja Abid from Brightstar told the packed room about how physically getting the phones to the women in rural India posed more problems than were expected. In the end, solving the problem took multiple people on the phone in New York at midnight, translators, and an Indian gentleman with phones in a plastic bag on a bicycle rushing to reach a departing train that would take deliver them to the women in a rural village many hours away.

She related to the audience that getting technology into the hands of those in the developing world requires resourcefulness and creative thinking to solve problems that those in the rest of the world take for granted.

MWC Irfan Wahab Khan

Irfan Wahab Khan from Telenor Pakistan addressed the idea that it is not up to mobile service providers to determine what people do with technology, but instead to listen to what people in developing nations want and need. He stated that half of their customers are connected to agriculture in some way. So rather than assuming people will want social and entertainment content on their mobile phones, Telenor Pakistan has initiatives offering innovative agricultural content, and agricultural products marketplace and mobile payments for farmers to pay and get paid.

MWC - Mark Kaplan

Next 3B partner, Mark Kaplan from Tone, spoke about the need to go beyond connectivity and work with local NGOs and government to deliver content that can make a real tangible difference in people’s lives. Their project in Indonesia does just that. Working with government organizations, they packaged smartphones with a SIM card and a solar charger in a scuba bag and distributed them to village fisherman with training.

Through monitoring they soon discovered what the fishermen needed most was information tailored to help them catch more fish. Equipped with plankton data, overlaid with maps and available on their smartphone even when out of range, the fishermen were able to navigate to their catch and back, decreasing their catch times and increasing their livelihood.

Additional takeaways

This thirty-minute panel was full of insights into what is needed for the industry to innovate for inclusion.  Some additional highlights:

  • Puja – Illiteracy means delivering content by streaming video. How do you do that when the infrastructure has 2G or even Edge connectivity?
  • Mark – It is important to work locally to understand how end users are using the technology and learn things that can’t be conceived in a boardroom. “It’s a human discussion, not a technical discussion.”
  • Irfan – Look at the whole picture to understand where to innovate. Is the barrier to entry the cost of phones, infrastructure, services, spectrum? Telenor is experimenting with credit scores, lending handsets, microfinance and livestock!
  • Rangu – Focus on generating demand to drive the biggest change. Create sustainability and financial inclusion through training and the Graduation approach, as implemented by Trickle Up in our Odisha initiative.

Watch the full panel discussion here:

The recurring theme throughout the panel was the imperative to listen to local needs and to collaborate to find solutions to serve those needs.

With Next 3B’s Commitment to Action for the Clinton Global Initiative, and our pilot project in Odisha, India, that is exactly what we are doing. Follow along with updates on this, and all of our projects, by signing up for email updates.