Bridging The Digital Divide – No Bridge Without The Digital

The GSM World organization is promoting “Universal Access” projects in developing countries. The goal is to ensure access for emerging markets to mobile technologies. One of the main efforts of the initiative is removal of cost barriers, exemplified by the much celebrated “$20 phone”, or to use the industry buzz word – the ULC (Ultra Low Cost Phone).

Ultra Low Cost Phone

The problem to date with ULC initiatives has been the concentration on voice services only. 2G networks that are capable of some data access are deployed, with more and more 2.5G and 3G data networks becoming common. With no data capabilities in ULC devices targeted to the (majority) lower-end market, the current ULC devices are inadequate in fulfilling the stated goal of “ Bridging  the Digital Divide”. Data Services are essential for ULC devices, leading to the ULC2 Alliance.

ULC2 Alliance

The Mobile ULC2 Alliance consists of Infineon Technologies AG, Jurong Technologies, TJAT Systems and Brightstar Corp. The Mobile ULC2 Alliance believes that the SEP will remove the affordability barrier, while incorporating high-end functions like email, localized services, and Instant Messaging. The ULC2 Alliance believes that the SEP offers both network operators and consumers in emerging markets a groundbreaking new development by combining exceptionally low operational costs with no requirement for additional infrastructure purchases.

Community Benefits

A study from 2005 has shown that an increase of only 10 mobile phones per 100 people increases GDP growth by 0.6%, and these are the voice-only benefits! It is expected that the web based Instant Messaging and Email, together with innovative, localized, programs based on new data capabilities, will dramatically increase the social and economical development of the communities enjoying even modest penetration of the new ULC2 handsets and services.

Examples of the planned services based on the introduced messaging and localized services include:

– Propagation of agricultural information between communities.

– Introduce remote areas to E-Banking, extending bank accounts to new population sectors, and allow for “micro payments” for goods and agricultural needs.

– Job Markets for day laborers and transportation bulletins.

– Local (up to the village level) user generated and managed content.

All this translated into actual participation in the data world, and not just consumption.

The ULC2 alliance is planning to distribute tens of millions of these new data enabled handsets in the next 1 to 3 years, introducing new social and economical benefits derived from being integrated into the world of digital communications, along with huge opportunities for Mobile Network Operators, Handset vendors and Service Providers tapping into new consumer segments when growth in the developed, saturated markets is slowing.