African Mobile Solutions Take Centre Stage at MWC

The conclusion of the annual gathering of the mobile industry in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (MWC) saw even greater interest in solutions from Africa than in previous years, a GSMA official has said.

Several African innovators were among the 2200 exhibitors who took part in the 2017 edition of the event, which is organised by the industry body on a global scale followed by regional events like GSMA Mobile 360 Series scheduled to take place in Tanzania later this year.

Yasmina McCarty, Head of Mobile for Development at GSMA told ITWeb Africa during MWC that the world is paying attention as mobile technology continues to impact African lives and spur local innovation that can be exported to other parts of the world.

“We have three sets of stakeholders here. We love to continue to talk innovators because that is where all these bright ideas come from. The operators are really important partners because once you have that innovation you need to get to scale so mobile operators can partner to take a small idea to turn it into a national vision.

“We also have the donor community and the government. The donor community is willing to fund some of these beginning stage innovations, while still risky, so that the private sector can come in over time.

“Solutions in agriculture, mobile money and energy solutions from Africa showcased here all had donor money in the beginning, but they then pulled back as the private sector came in. This is the ecosystem.

“We have had four new partners that we have announced and that is UNDP, Sida which is the Swedish aid agency, the Norwegian aid agency Norad and the UN Foundation, and they are all excited about the momentum we have now and they want to support the work,” she said.

GSMA Mobile World Conference

“Mkopa from Kenya is just one example, in energy, of thirty-two other companies who are doing these kinds of solutions we are now showing to the world. More than two hundred million pounds are invested in energy and the innovation is showing great promise. A lot more people around the world who do not have access to reliable power can benefit from this solution using a basic handset. If a small business has access to a solar system like Mkopa they can stay open for an hour-and-a-half longer every day and that is an extra income or extra time of studying for kids in a home.”

McCarty believes that the success in rolling out mobile money around the world can be extended to reach sectors such as agriculture and health.

“What is exciting is that we now have half a billion mobile money wallets around the world now and about every minute you have thirty thousand transactions. Mobile money is in ninety-two countries now and processing 22 billion dollars in one month so it has become an industry in its own right and that is thanks to mobile technology. We have thirty-five mobile money services with one million active customers in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but Africa continues to be the pioneer. It is an innovation that you can say Africa gave to the world as it has travelled beyond the continent.”

Erik Bijwaard, Mobile Network Operations Manager at Pessl Instruments, which exhibited its NB-IoT agriculture solution along with Huawei, attested to the usefulness of taking part in MWC for small companies looking to attract investors that can help them expand their reach.

Pessl Instruments’ weather solutions are available in a number of countries including Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Senegal and Mali, with plans in place to expand to more countries on the continent.

“We have a project in West Africa where we set up a regional network through which we communicate with farmers and we exchanged information with the GMSA who helped us set up the project. In Africa, we have a different situation from Europe where a farmer can buy equipment like the ones we exhibited here. African farmers who have 500 square meters or less cannot buy a weather station by themselves and you, therefore, need a group of farmers who can share data and mobile operators who have access to them can help to relay information to them.”

The GSMA’s McCarty emphasised the need for Africa’s mobile industry to take part in the regional event scheduled to take place in Dar Es Salaam in a few months.

“What we do at the regional event is dive into some of the direct policy and industry matters and bring those together. We are meeting the minister in Cote d’Ivoire and we are doing an event there in April and we are back in Tanzania in July. We try to have in-country dialogue between industry and government to consider what a digital society in 2030 would look like and what is possible, and what sort of solutions citizens can enjoy as well as how we can work together to achieve our goals. At the national level we can do that deep dive and at a global level we look at new technology and innovations.” ITWebAfrica


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