The theme for 2011, “Better life in rural communities with ICTs”, is particularly relevant for Africa and MTN, says MTN South Africa MD Karel Pienaar.
MTN has established itself as Africa’s leading brand by venturing into under – or unserviced areas, many of which have been rural. In the past two years alone MTN has injected approximately R18bn into upgrading its South African network and systems with an increasing focus on rural areas, and the capital investment programme does not end here.
New MTN base stations in rural areas make use of wind and solar power. These base stations utilise UMTS 900MHz technology, purpose built for rural areas, to bridge the digital divide by providing 3G and mobile connectivity to areas that were previously excluded from the global village. MTN was the first operator in Africa to utilise the 900MHz technology, and it is rolling this service out to other previously unconnected and rural areas following the success of the pilot sites.
Importantly, MTN complements this extended rural network reach with appropriate and innovative products and services. For example, a 900MHz compatible phone can be purchased for only R69 enabling customers to take advantage of MTN’s many PayAsYouGo enhancements (MTN Zone) that make calls more cost effective and, on occasions, even free.
“The ‘mobile miracle’ that Africa has experienced firsthand in recent years is only starting to gain momentum. The social and economic benefits of being ‘connected’ have real, long term and sustainable effects on developing nations,” says Pienaar.
“We believe the ‘data market’ will grow as these under-serviced areas become more aware of the full end-to-end connectivity services that MTN can provide.”
Telecommunications plays a key role in improving services, and ultimately the quality of life for people living in rural areas. Connectivity often proves to be the catalyst that provides rural communities with the opportunity to better their lives.
While Africa, and developing countries in general, have made impressive gains in ICT penetration over the past decade, in some instances surpassing the 2010 targets of 5% set by the Millennium Development Goals, sub-Saharan Africa remains among the lowest penetration of mobile (30%) and internet connectivity (10%) in the world.
As the leading operator in the region, MTN believes that wireless broadband is the most effective mechanism to bring these essential development-boosting services to rural and underserviced areas. It makes economic and business sense.
MTN has invested approximately $600m in five undersea cables that provide high-capacity, cost-effective and more reliable international bandwidth to the region. “We obviously make these investments with future growth, development and belief in the region in mind,” says Pienaar.
“Broadband is a massive enabler that has the potential to expand effective delivery of vital services such as healthcare and education,” reveals Pienaar. MTN has, through the MTN SA Foundation, and in conjunction with the Department of Health, provided rural hospitals with a medical device that enables patients to receive comprehensive care at a local clinic or hospital instead of being referred to a tertiary hospital. This reduces unnecessary patient transfers and saves the patient from being away from work or their family.
On the education front, approximately R200m has been spent on school connectivity. InternetOnTV, for example, provides rural children with the ability to access the Internet via a normal television set. The capital outlay of InternetOnTV is a fraction of what it would cost to set up an Internet connection using a computer or laptop, software, modem and service provider. The unit comprises a handset and keyboard with a built-in modem, which is 3G-capable. This device can be used with a PayAsYouGo SIM card. Convenient for home usage, a customer would simply connect the handset and keyboard to the television set to enjoy affordable access to the World Wide Web.
“The ability to access financial services via a mobile phone allows millions of people in developing countries to manage their financial lives. By enabling trade and interaction with others in a safe, secure and well-understood environment, it also stimulates entrepreneurial activity. The multiplier effect of one mobile connection on the economy is only beginning to be seen and understood,” concludes Pienaar.