May 19, 2019

GSMA Report Says Mobile Technology Will Enable Access to Life-Enhancing Services in the Pacific Islands

post that I published in this forum in 2008 focuses on a project my colleagues and I developed in utilizing information and communications technology (ICT) to implement social and economic development initiatives in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). One significant outcome of our proposal was to create a digital strategy to be incorporated into the FSM's national development strategy. Eleven years later, I read with great interest a report, The Mobile Economy Pacific Islands 2019, that says "[m]obile technology can play a pivotal role in the digital transformation of the Pacific Islands, enabling access to life-enhancing services in areas such as health and education, while proving a catalyst for innovation and economic growth, with the promise of new jobs and increased tax revenues."

Authored by GSMA Intelligence, the research arm of the UK-based GSMA, below are the report's findings:
  • Mobile helping to boost financial inclusion: The Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP) was launched in 2008 and has funded 44 projects with financial service providers helping more than 2 million Pacific Islanders access formal financial services;
  • The ongoing shift to mobile broadband and digital transformation: at the end of 2018 mobile internet penetration in the region was the lowest of any region in the world at 18 per cent. However, 4G connections in the Pacific Islands are set to account for more than half of total connections by 2023, doubling the figure from the end of 2018 and increasing access to services;
  • Infrastructure challenges: Many countries in the Pacific Islands region face issues around insufficient infrastructure. Several countries are yet to complete the digital switchover process, including Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Solomon Islands; and
  • Unlocking the full potential of mobile: The upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference will be one of the best opportunities for governments and industry to identify a significant amount of harmonized millimeter wave spectrum, which will result in massive economies of scale for 5G in the future.
Infographic: GSMA
The report encouragingly explains: "Mobile phones are bringing internet access to previously unconnected populations across the world, particularly in developing regions such as the Pacific Islands where there is a lack of alternative access technologies."

However, "Countries across the Pacific Islands still face significant challenges around funding infrastructure to provide mobile and internet access to their populations, which in turn reduces the ability of governments and policy-makers to address social and economic challenges. Providing mobile coverage is a particular challenge in a region often described as 'sea locked,' with large segments of the population living in remote and often inaccessible areas."

Further on the topic of the challenges of mobile connectivity in the Pacific Islands, the report notes:
The GSMA Mobile Connectivity Index measures digital inclusion in 163 countries across the world, including six countries in the Pacific Islands. The index is built around four key enablers of mobile internet connectivity, critical to creating the right conditions of supply and demand for mobile internet connectivity to flourish:
  • infrastructure: the availability of high-performance mobile internet network coverage
  • affordability: the availability of mobile services and devices at price points that reflect the level of income across a national population
  • consumer readiness: citizens with the awareness and skills needed to value and use the internet and a cultural environment that promotes gender equality
  • content: the availability of online content and services that are accessible and relevant to the local population.
There are many aspects of our 2008 proposal remain relevant in 2019 of using mobile technology as a pivotal role in the digital transformation of the FSM and throughout the Pacific Islands. Specifically, with the expansion of mobile technology, Pacific Islanders will be able to access digital health (mHealth), education, and financial technology (fintech) services. This presents a great opportunity for technology developers and investors to collaborate and support local small businesses.

In addition, with an early roll out of 5G services in 2020 and a projected 19,000 5G connections in 2025 (see left chart), frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, IoT and advanced data analytics will become available. "The Pacific Islands region might not be one of the first to roll out 5G services but it can benefit from a mature ecosystem and global economies of scale to see 5G develop in the same way as LTE has done in the region. New submarine cables with improved capacity and other technical advancements are setting the stage for advanced broadband services, including 5G."

What online content and services are you developing that are accessible and relevant to Pacific Islanders?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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