The GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities programme (M4D Utilities) has released a new report outlining progress in using mobile technology to deliver energy, water and sanitation services to underserved communities. The latest edition of M4D Utilities annual report, titled ‘Unlocking access to utility services: The transformational value of mobile’, was released during the recent Mobile 360 – Africa event in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
“Billions of people in emerging markets still lack access to essential utility services such as energy, clean drinking water and basic sanitation,” said Mats Granryd, GSMA Director General. “A new wave of innovative mobile technology can improve and increase access to these basic utility services, while at the same time stimulating markets, empowering small businesses and even saving lives. The mobile industry is dedicated to creating commercially sustainable partnerships that can harness these emerging technologies.”
Mobile technology can unlock new service models, such as mobile money for affordable and remote bill payments, mobile services to communicate with customers, and machine-to-machine connectivity to remotely monitor distributed services. These innovations in service delivery make essential utility services accessible, affordable and reliable for underserved communities.
The GSMA M4D Utilities programme, launched in 2013 with the support of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), has awarded grants to 34 organisations that offer mobile-enabled utility services, which have directly benefited almost 2 million people. The innovative trials funded to date have resulted in grantees raising an additional £40.5 million in private-sector investments, underlining the commercial viability of the projects. The programme has funded projects and studies in 24 global markets in total, the majority (15) in Africa. This work makes strong contributions to GSMA and the mobile industry’s support for the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals1, addressing Goal #6 (ensuring access to water and sanitation) and Goal #7 (ensuring affordable energy).
The new report examines the mobile-enabled utility sector in depth and identifies the following trends:
Mobile is unlocking rapid growth of PAYG utility services
Approximately 650,000 mobile-connected pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar home systems have been delivered worldwide, with over 30 companies operating in at least 32 countries. Mobile channels are enabling this and other prepaid/PAYG models to flourish, attracting significant investments in the energy sector and enabling business models to emerge in the water sector.
The Internet of Things is transforming utility models
The Internet of Things is already key to some off-grid energy models and connected infrastructure is set to change the landscape for centralised and decentralised utility systems, with several pilots already underway.
Challenges remain in powering telecom towers as an anchor business for community power
Off-grid energy companies, particularly micro-grid providers, may seek to anchor their businesses to powering telecom towers—a viable way to power surrounding businesses and communities. “Community Power from Mobile” models are seeing traction in some markets, but aligning the incentives of all parties remains a challenge.
Mobile-enabled water services are advancing while sanitation models are still nascent
Water and sanitation businesses have grown less rapidly than those in the energy sector, but there are signs that information about service delivery and new payment mechanisms are driving new business models and government partnerships.
Partnerships with MNOs are growing
Many service providers have partnered to leverage MNO assets such as mobile payment platforms or sales outlets to enhance their efficiency, extend their reach and offer new services. Via these partnerships, MNOs benefit from increasing uptake of mobile services and improved brand perception. Furthermore, with the growing appreciation of the opportunity, some MNOs are taking the lead in utility services.
Investment in PAYG energy is accelerating
The market opportunity for energy, especially PAYG energy, has attracted the attention of investors with nearly $295 million awarded to PAYG energy companies so far, mainly in Africa. However, levels of private capital into the water and sanitation sectors have been weaker, highlighting the continued critical role of grants in funding innovative business models, where the risk of investing in early stage enterprises remains high.
The GSMA M4D Utilities programme’s annual report, ‘Unlocking access to utility services: The transformational value of mobile’, is available for download.