Rolling out mobile networks to rural and developing areas in Africa can save thousands of lives and stimulate economic development, according to research on a network project.
The study - conducted by Ericsson, the Earth Institute and Millennium Promise – involved monitoring and evaluating the impact of the development of mobile networks in rural areas of Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania.
Universal mobile access in rural areas will help save up to 6,000 lives a year in these countries if a toll-free emergency services number is maintained, the study found.
Mobile networks also have the potential to stimulate economic development, a finding in line with other studies showing a potential improvement of 1.2% GDP growth for every 10% increase in mobile penetration.
Three in four respondents to a survey in those four countries said they had benefited socially or financially from access to a mobile phone. But where three quarters of the population earns less than $1 a day, residents must make financial sacrifices to afford mobile phones.
They often pay between 5-15% of their household income on mobile top-ups – self-reported monthly expenditure ranged from $2 to nearly $50 per person.
High end-user costs are the main barrier to increased uptake of mobile phone and voice/data services. The lack of a dependable energy supply – an estimated 2.6 billion people in developing countries have no or unreliable access to grid electricity – is also limiting adoption.
The study examines the impact so far of the Millennium Villages Project, a joint initiative between Ericsson, MTN, Zain and Sony Ericsson in 12 village clusters in ten African countries.