The GSM Association (GSMA), in collaboration with mobile network operators Airtel, Millicom and Vodacom, has launched a rural connectivity initiative involving six 3G pilot sites to test mobile broadband services to 13 million potential internet users in rural Tanzania.
"This cooperation between the Tanzanian MNOs demonstrates that the industry is committed to connecting the unconnected – particularly the millions living in rural areas – and enabling them to gain access to essential internet services," said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA. "Digital inclusion has become a strategic priority for operators and the government alike. Building on the 17 million citizens who currently access the internet, this initiative will focus on the remaining 13 million citizens in Tanzania yet to be connected to the internet."
According to the GSMA the mobile telephony market in Tanzania has grown significantly and, as of the end of 2015, there were over 17 million individual mobile subscribers, accounting for 34 million connections across the country.
"While mobile growth in Tanzania has been substantial, large sections of society are still left out of the digital realm. Tanzania's population of 49 million people is widely dispersed, with 69 percent of the population living in rural regions. As population density in rural wards varies significantly, operators have so far been able to deploy their 2G networks to up to 85 percent of the population, while 3G network deployment is mostly limited to urban areas, resulting in only 35 percent of the population being covered and able to access the mobile internet," the company has stated.
The agreement is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between the GSMA Connected Society programme, the three local operators and the government of Tanzania.
The pilots are structured around a replicable methodology to roll out mobile broadband networks, providing critical access to the unconnected and the GSMA expects to launch similar projects in other markets over the next three years.
Granryd concluded, "To connect the unconnected, governments with large rural communities need to promote the acceleration of national broadband coverage by releasing low-frequency spectrum, incentivising commercial sharing arrangements to facilitate infrastructure roll-out in rural areas, and creating an enabling taxation environment in order to deliver the mobile internet, even in the most challenging of places."
Recently, Ashley Boag, Acting Managing Director of SAP East Africa, recognised the progress made by East African countries, including Tanzania, in terms of digital transformation.
"There is definite recognition that technology and African innovation need to be a big factor and focus. Governments and companies know they have to invest in innovation if they want to continue their growth paths and even leapfrog others. More and more companies around East Africa are asking what we see as the key threads in technologies such as big data and the Internet of Things. They are already wrapping their heads around it and they understand that to stay competitive, they have to make significant investments in the future."