Connecting the bottom of the pyramid

Secondary Research: Technological Solutions Bringing Connectivity to the bottom of pyramid

March 2015


A. Voice-Based Information Networks

1. Awaaz.De: Awaaz De is a group voice SMS messaging platform. Users can create & share audio content on
any phone via their web interface or voice SMS API. These voice broadcasts are interactive; group members can send responses (voice or touchtone) that the group owner accesses over the phone or web. Group members can discover and subscribe to any Stream, and forward messages to their own contacts.

Awaaz.De offers three other voice-based products: Forums (for many-to-many communication like Q&A), Surveys (data collection), and Xact (personalized voice messaging API).

These products have been used across the agriculture, health, education, and microfinance sectors in India
by hundreds of social enterprises, foundations, media companies, SMEs, NGOs, government agencies and research groups. Till date, Awaaz.De has served over one million phone calls to over 400,000 unique callers in 13 Indian states and 5 countries.

Neil Patel: CEO of @Awaaz.De. PhD in CS from @ Stanford, B.S. in CS and Bus. from Berkeley. His award- winning PhD research led to starting @Awaaz.De in India. Tapan Parikh: Assistant Professor at UC @Berkeley

2. Mobile Vaani : Mobile Vaani is a social technology company incubated out of IIT Delhi. A radio-over-phone and community radio services for the bottom of the pyramid. They have an intelligent IVR (interactive voice response) system that allows people to call into a number and leave a message about their community, or listen to messages left by others.

These messages range from updates about local village events, to folk songs and cultural updates from the communities, feedback on government schemes, and discussions about topics of importance including the state of education and health in rural areas. Being purely voice based, Mobile Vaani immediately becomes accessible to poorly literate communities. A combination of applications are running on the platform including social networking, citizen journalism, social messaging, and local governance.

Their flagship deployment in Jharkhand now has over 100,000 users that call over 2000 times per day, and discuss wide ranging issues on culture, local updates and announcements, government schemes, and information sharing.


Aaditeshwar Seth: Co-founder and CEO of Gram Vaani. He also teaches computer science at IIT Delhi where he advises a fantastic team of students.

Zahir Koradia: Co-founder and CTO. PhD IIT Mumbai and has been working with Gram Vaani since its inception. He as integral to the design and deployment for the GRINS community radio platform and the Mobile Vaani voice architecture, and now leads the technology team.

Mayank Shivam: Co-founder and adviser: B.E IIT
Kanpur and MBA IIM Lucknow. 5 years of experience at McKinsey and Co. in India and internationally. He now works in online retail and advises Gram Vaani part-time on operations and strategy.


B. Internet connectivity Solutions:

1. First Mile Solutions : Their technology leverages two major trends that are rapidly driving costs down:
WiFi (802.11x wireless) and digital storage. They develop cached WiFi intelligence. FMS is based in Cambridge, MA and holds patent-pending intellectual property based on research and development performed by management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

FMS’s Internet Village Motoman : They allows schools, government offices, and healthcare clinics in rural areas of Cambodia access the internet through a wi-fi enabled motorcycle. Each of the schools can send and receive email and also browse the Internet using a non-real-time search engine. The network was implemented within one month by a team of three (adjacent) at a cost of approximately $500 per village.

The project was implemented for American Assistance for Cambodia, which operates 225 rural schools throughout Cambodia with funding from private donors and the World Bank., http://www., htm

2. The, is a partnership initiative between Facebook and telecom industry giants like Nokia and Qualcomm.

a. The app allows people to browse selected health, employment and local information websites without data charges. The app is currently available to Airtel customers in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, Tigo customers in Colombia and Tanzania, and Reliance customers in India. available-in-india

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b. Connectivity Lab at Facebook: The Connectivity Lab at Facebook is developing ways to make affordable internet access possible in communities around the world. The team is exploring a variety of technologies, including high-altitude long-endurance planes, satellites and lasers. at-facebook

Internet Via Drones: A Connectivity Lab Project Powered By Acqhires From Ascenta, a five-member team of UK-based startup Ascenta, whose members previously worked at QinetiQ, Boeing, Honeywell and the Harris Corporation. There they tackled on projects including the Breitling Orbiter and prototypes of the Zephyr, the longest-flying solar powered drone. Members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Ames Research Center, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory have also come aboard the Facebook project.


c. Innovation Lab: An Ericsson-Facebook collaboration, the Innovation Lab was designed to help developers understand how their apps will work in different parts of the world. The lab’s elaborate test environment mimics a variety of network conditions, giving developers a way to ensure their apps will run even in very remote areas.

3. Google’s initiatives:

a. Project Loon: Google’s internet in the sky. Loon is using specially equipped balloons that kiss the upper edges of Earth’s atmosphere. Today, the team is running an inflation test that will measure the pressure that the giant white spheres can handle before popping. http:// balloon-project-loon-interview

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b. Google Internet Bus.

India Project: Was launched in 2009. The Internet Bus Project was an attempt to educate people about what the Internet is, and how it may be beneficial to their lives, by taking the Internet experience to them in their preferred language, through a customised Internet-enabled bus, which traveled to several towns and cities across India. The Internet Bus touched the lives of more than 12,00,000 Indians across 110 towns stopping at over 1000 locations. Their surveys indicated that over 30% of our visitors have gone online for the first time after visiting the Internet Bus and over 50% of our visitors have told at least five people about the benefits of the Internet. Their website is no longer active.

Bangladesh: Around November 2014, Google Bus began a twelve month journey of over 500 college and university campuses in 35 locations across Bangladesh. An educational program aimed at teaching key digital skills to more than half a million students in the South Asian country. In addition to tutors, students involved in the project will be able to get hands-on with a number
of internet-connected Android devices. The hardware is entry-level devices from Symphony, like the $70 Xplorer W65i. There’s also a Google+ community for the project, where students can exchange ideas, and access more information. takes-internet-for-ride.html

c. Google’s Android One Program-Low-cost
Android devices: Android One is a program that helps manufacturers make cheap phones that run on the latest version of stock Android — Google sets minimum hardware specifications, such as a 4.5-inch screen and five-megapixel camera, and it sources components to lower manufacturing costs. The result is that the new phones can run Android 4.4 and the upcoming Android L and still come in at around $100, whereas many cheap Android handsets already on the market run ancient versions of the mobile operating system. The Android One handsets that are currently on sale, include the Micromax Canvas A1, the Spice Dream Uno and the Karbonn Sparkle V, all of which cost $105. Other manufacturers on the raft: Acer, Alcatel, Asus, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic and Xolo.

30_dollar_cellphone_004 nexus-line-for-inexpensive-phones/ keynote.html

d. Google is also partnering with local carriers to offer over-the-air Android updates and app downloads for free.

4. SpaceX : SpaceX is working on a fleet of “advanced micro-satellites operating in large formations”. SpaceX is looking at ways to develop small and inexpensive satellites that can enable Internet access around the world. They launched 2 communications satellites: ABS 3A & @ Eutelsat_SA 115 West B on March 1st 2015.

SpaceX is considering launching about 700 satellites, each weighing less than 250 pounds, or half the size of the smallest communications satellites currently used.  The fleet would also be 10 times bigger than the largest current fleet, managed by Iridium Communications. Its twitter account @SpaceX has 692k followers.

Elon Musk: Founder of Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity & PayPal micro-satellites-for-low-cost-internet-within-three-months/

6. The Vodafone Foundation: Vodafone is a grant making organisation.It funds projects which use mobile communication technologies to address some of the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges and to enhance people’s quality of life. 75% of the grant goes to mobile related social change in four areas : m-women, m-education, m-health and m-agriculture. 25% Disaster relief. In case of natural disaster communication is the first thing to break. As part of their social investment program, they focus on providing immediate humanitarian assistance in case of natural disasters and emergencies, and providing critical support to the NGO sector.

a. The Red Rickshaw Revolution In India: Red Rickshaw Revolution,aims to celebrate the achievements of ordinary women doing work from all walks of life. The initiative was first started in the year 2013 as a rickshaw journey from Delhi to Mumbai to celebrate the achievements of 50 inspirational women. The focus is on women in governance who are currently occupying a leadership position in the Panchayat. Vodafone Foundation and Digital Empowerment Foundation will set up a digital Community Information Resource Centre (dCIRC) in their respective Panchayat.

b. Vodafone Instant Network Programme: Aims to deploy Vodafone Volunteers and technology in emergencies to provide free communications and technical support to aid agencies and victims and develop new technologies to support the humanitarian community. Instant Network Mini is an 11 kilogram mobile network in a backpack that can be deployed in just 10 minutes, enabling aid workers to swiftly carry out life-saving work in disaster situations. As a robust backpack that can be taken as hand luggage on commercial flights and deployed by non-technical staff, Instant Network Mini can provide up to five concurrent calls within a radius of 100 metres and enable text messages to be sent to thousands of people to provide crucial information following a disaster. The Instant Network Mini was developed with Vodafone Spain and partners Huawei and Telecoms Sans Frontières and provides a secure 2G GSM network. The GSM base transceiver station connects to a host network over a satellite connection. The equipment is particularly suited to providing a GSM mobile network in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and for delivering mobile money solutions to inaccessible areas. It has been designed to provide both voice and SMS communications to a small humanitarian field office in disaster areas.

voda-1 voda-3

Instant Network: Vodafone Instant Network is an ultra- portable GSM network that packs into 4 cases weighing
a total of less than 100kg. The cases are transportable on commercial flights and allow emergency response partners such as Telecoms Sans Frontieres (TSF) to respond immediately to any disaster, travelling with emergency communications equipment. Once on location a network can be established in less than 40 minutes. In November 2013, Smart Communications Inc. requested assistance from the Vodafone Foundation in response to Typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest storm to hit the Philippines. The Vodafone Foundation deployed two Instant Networks to support rescue and relief efforts. The deployment in the Philippines lasted 29 days, during which time Instant Network enabled 1.4 million text messages and 443,288 calls.

The Vodafone volunteer programme provides Vodafone employees from around the world with specialised training in the area of emergency telecommunications response, including the deployment of Vodafone Instant Network.

c. TecSOS is the Vodafone Foundation’s specially adapted device which provides support for victims of domestic violence. The device has been adapted so that victims can contact the emergency services quickly and easily. The call is routed to an emergency services operator. Special technology allows for any activation to be identified as a TecSOS handset and the incoming call immediately brings up the victim’s history on the operator’s screen to save time. Police are able to identify the caller’s approximate location, to get to the victim as quickly as possible.The call is recorded and this can be used as evidence in any subsequent investigation.

There are currently 15,733 TecSOS handsets in use across Spain, UK, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Ireland and Germany. Since 2004 the handset has helped 41,211 victims of domestic violence.

7. Question Box: Question Box is a project from UC Berkeley’s Rose Shuman to bring some of the benefits of the information on the Internet to places with high illiteracy, social and technical barriers. It is a very good example of how net can extend beyond the physical boundaries of its wires. The Question Box service was first introduced in remote villages in India around 2007, and it came to Uganda in April 2009. The Ugandan version takes advantage of the explosive popularity of cell phones in Africa.

In India, villagers can use Question Box through an actual box — a metal one with a push-to-talk button. They ask a question and an operator in a distant city will either look up the answer on the Web immediately or ask the callers to wait a few minutes before getting back to them. In Uganda, though, that model proved unworkable because Internet connections are so slow. So the operators at Question Box search a locally stored database created by Appfrica Labs, a Ugandan company that hosts the call center. The database contains answers to past questions as well as a repository of documents, government statistics and research papers.



The Question Box worker dial into the call center and ask questions on behalf of the locals, or they put the call on speakerphone so the locals can ask for themselves. The operators then look up the requested information in a database and convey it to the workers, who pass it along to the villagers. The workers are compensated with cellphone airtime.

Technology: Question Box Network GSM mobile signal, and run on any local power source. It uses Closed User Groups (CUGs). Calls are free between the callboxes and the destination phone number, therefore reducing the cost of implementation. Calls can go to either a central location, or to distributed program staff and outreach workers.

Founder & Partners: The service is a joint effort of Open Mind, a nonprofit group founded by Ms. Shuman, and the Grameen Foundation, which is best known for promoting small loans for the poor. It has received financial backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

8. The Rural Internet Kiosks : Rural kiosks in developing countries provide a variety of services such as birth, marriage, and death certificates, electricity bill collection, land records, email services, and consulting on medical and agricultural problems. Fundamental to a kiosk’s operation is its connection to the Internet.

They are well-suited to this purpose because both the capital and operational expenses of the kiosk are spread among a fairly large user base, greatly reducing the per- user cost. Even with very low user fees (10- 15 cents/ transaction), an entrepreneur can make enough money to profitably provide government-to-citizen and financial services.

Examples of Internet Kiosk around the world:

a. N-Logue and Drishtee in India report unexpected problems such as a long-range link being overpowered by a laptop near one of the towers. In practice, tower heights of at least 18m have been reported to be necessary, which turn out to be quite expensive.

b. ISOC funded solar rural Internet kiosk in Kenya:

The Rural Internet Kiosks is 100% solar powered and is connect to the Internet via satellite using VSAT technology.



Kiosks are unproductive without reliable Internet connectivity. Today, kiosks connect primarily using
dialup lines, Very Small Aperture (satellite) Terminals, or rarely, long range WiFi. Unfortunately all three solutions suffer from insuperable problems. They tend to be both expensive and failure prone. Dialup land lines are slow, unreliable, and subject to environmental extremes which degrade their availability. In rural areas, repair delays
of three to four days are common. VSAT terminals
are reliable, but require considerable up-front capital expenditure as well as expensive monthly fees. Their cost-per-bit is therefore high. Moreover, in case of breakdowns, spare parts are not widely available. Finally, long-range WiFi requires considerable planning for a large scale deployment. Line-of-sight is necessary for most technologies, and a constant power supply is needed at each relay tower.


Microsoft’s study of Rural Internet kiosks : Social Entrepreneurship as Critical Agency
The research looked into rural internet kiosks as small businesses run by owners/operators who display good entrepreneurial spirit and skills that match kiosk offerings to local needs, creating opportunities in constrained commercial environments. According to the study, kiosk operators display enough imagination to keep businesses afloat recasting information technologies to accommodate the growing demand for image /visual consumption. Writer argues for considering the rural internet kiosk not simply as an information booth but as entrepreneurial space to tap several commercial possibilities.

Author: Rangaswamy and N, May 2006
Publisher: 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE 

9. Microsoft’s white spaces project: ‘White spaces’ refers to the unused channels of the wireless spectrum in the frequency bands that are commonly used for television. Wifi has a range of only about 100 metres, whereas the 200-300 MHz spectrum band available in the white space can reach up to 10 km. In Africa, it makes use of solar-powered towers that tap into unlicensed “white space” frequencies. Using TV white spaces and solar-powered base stations and towers, the previously unserved locations near Kenya’s Nanyuki and Kalema have been given access to broadband.

google-white-space-mast innovative-solution-to-provide-internet-access-to-africas- rural-areas/25427/

In India, this spectrum belongs mainly to Doordarshan and the government and is not used at all. Microsoft India have sought clearance for a pilot project in two districts. The initiative also take forward the Prime Minister’s slogan of “IT + IT = IT”, which is Indian talent plus information technology equals India tomorrow and also give a push to the ‘Make in India’ campaign by encouraging the manufacture of equipment locally. Microsoft, which was part of an international consortium that included BT, Nokia and BBC, conducted the most widespread field trials on white space-based Internet connectivity in Cambridge, US, in 2011. White space technology has previously been deployed in South Africa, Ghana, and the UK, although to this point white space broadband hasn’t been deployed at a commercially meaningful scale but experts believe it can lead to a spurt in broadband connectivity in countries such as India. Engineers at Microsoft development centres in India have adapted this unlicenced technology for the country. The plan was approved by the Modi Cabinet on August 30, 2014. white-space-broadband-to-connect-rural-india-to-the- internet/

10. Jenny Wireless allows its franchisees to establish internet service provider businesses through building their own wireless networks. The business model is simple: Franchisees invest in a wireless tower and other infrastructure. Revenue is generated by providing internet and telephone services to end-users such as farmers, mines, wildlife parks, businesses, low-income households and government institutions. Each tower has a range of up to 50km and franchisees can add as many towers as they wish. Jenny Wireless handles all the billing and administration duties remotely.  Jenny Wireless was started by two brothers, Werner and Rolf Stucky. They see rural telecoms not as a social responsibility but as an investment because their franchisees can make profits in these underserved areas.

Case Study: study-connecting-rural-africa-to-the-internet/15624/

How Indian govt. is looking to solve this issue

11. Bharat Broadband: As of July 2014, Indian government has allocated Rs 500 Crore for its Digital India campaign that aims to set up broadband services in rural India. Earlier in November 2013, previous to the national elections, the government had also announced that it had cleared a proposal to provide three internet connections and one Wi-Fi hotspot in each of the 2.5 lakh gram panchayats spread across the country, under the Bharat Broadband scheme. The idea, raised by the Department of Telecom, planned to connect gram panchayats with National Optical Fiber Networks. This initiative did not meet its deadlines and only 40 development blocks covering 800 panchayats were laid with fiber optics.

12. BSNL LandLine : BSNL is currently one among the preferred internet service provider in rural India as internet connections are provided through a fixed landline telephone connection and hence has larger coverage compared to other services currently available in India.

13. Satellite Internet: Satellite Internet in India, termed as VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) includes wireless connectivity through satellites positioned in geosynchronous orbit. VSAT technology offers connectivity without geographical or location constraints and hence is an ideal option for rural areas in the country. VSAT services would not be as beneficial to the common man as they are to SMBs as they require indoor and outdoor units to be set up. The list of satellite based internet providers in India can be found here:

C. Farming and connectivity around the world:

1. ITC e-Choupal initiative : e-Choupal is an initiative of ITC Limited “Indian Tobacco Company”, a conglomerate in India, to link directly with rural farmers via the Internet for procurement of agricultural and aquaculture products like soybeans, wheat, coffee, and prawns. e-Choupal tackles the challenges posed by Indian agriculture, characterized by fragmented farms, weak infrastructure and the involvement of intermediaries. The programme installs computers with Internet access in rural areas of India to offer farmers up-to-date marketing and agricultural information.


Lead farmers receive extensive training on the e-Choupal system.These lead farmers, in turn, help the neighboring farmers access information through the specially designed web portals in their local languages. Farmers gather at these kiosks (Choupal means “meeting place” in Hindi) regularly for the latest information. There are 6,500 e-Choupals in operation in 40,000 villages in 10 states, affecting around 4 million farmers.

Case Study: an/604016-PDF-ENG

2. Digital Green: Digital Green uses technology to support agriculture, health, and nutrition. It is an independent non-governmental organization that trains farmers to produce and share short videos in which they raise issues, share solutions and highlight successes and share the solutions with rest of the world using those video. The video equipment is low cost, durable, and easy to use, according to Digital Green. The production team, made up of 4-6 community members, captures the agricultural or health innovation in an eight to ten minute video, then using $200 battery-operated handheld projectors, the farmers show the videos to gathered villagers in locales with scant or no electricity. Digital Green’s approach is primarily a technology-enabled means of behavior change communication, which is cost-effective, scalable, and brings together researchers, development practitioners, and rural communities to produce and share locally relevant information through videos. Digital Green works across seven states in India and parts of Ethiopia and Ghana. The organization engages over 150,000 farmers (over 70% women) in more than 2,000 villages. It received an Rs 3 crore Global Impact Award from Google in 2013, and Manthan award in 2012.

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Founder: It was first conceived as a project in Microsoft Research India’s Technology for Emerging Markets in 2006 by Rikin Gandhi (Chief Executive Officer of Digital Green) and his colleagues. It later branched out as an independent NGO in 2008. Rikin Gandhi was awarded IFA Norman Borlaug Award by the International Fertilizer Industry Association in 2012.

3. M-Farm: In Kenya, M-Farm Ltd is a software solution and agribusiness company. It is a transparency technology tool for smallholder farmers to receive information on the retail price of their products, to buy their farm inputs directly from manufacturers at favorable prices, and find buyers for their produce. Farmers use SMS to buy farm inputs from manufacturers and connect to markets. They simply SMS the number 20255 (Safaricom Users)

M-Farm was founded by three women – Jamila Abass, Susan Eve, and Linda – who won a 48-hour bootcamp competition. Members can access market information and post in the online marketplace.

4. OneWorld South Asia is using mobile phones and voice technology to provide relevant farming information to more than 150,000 households in 1,000 villages. The program, LifeLines Agriculture, allows farmers, especially those that are illiterate, to use telephone kiosks or cell phones to call and ask questions. Then the farmer calls back within 24 to 72 hours to receive the answer to their question. More than 460,000 questions have been answered with the help of Field Coordinators.

5. Nokia Life Tools: Nokia Life Tools, is an SMS based, subscription information service designed for emerging markets which offers a wide range of information services covering healthcare, agriculture, education and entertainment. The agricultural part of the service consists of localized information including weather conditions, advice about crop cycles, general tips and techniques, as well as market prices for crops. Farmers in the pilot scheme said getting daily prices on their phones reduced their dependency on agents for basic information, enabling them to negotiate with greater confidence. The educational tools provide simple English and general knowledge courses in local languages, as well as study modules in a variety of state and ICSE board topics, including history, geography, biology, physics and chemistry. In India, it also includes a service that allows students to retrieve their exam results through their NLT app.

The healthcare services offers pregnancy and childcare advice, men’s health, and women’s health in all countries. There is also a range of health topics like respiratory, heart, diabetes, hepatitis and digestive health which are specific to some countries.

The entertainment suite offering varies regionally and includes among others cricket & football scores, news, wallpapers, astrology, and ringtones. Most Nokia Life services were priced at Rs 30/month.

The service is currently available in Pakistan, India, Indonesia, China and Nigeria. As of April 2011, over 15 million people have experienced NLT services in these four countries. Nokia Life was launched as Mera Nokia, in the state of Maharashtra in India in early 2009. After the successful pilot, a wider commercial deployment of the service under the name Nokia Life Tools began in India in June 2009. The first two supported devices were the Nokia 2323 Classic and Nokia 2330 Classic devices, English and the services in India supported 11 local languages. (Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Bengali, Telugu, Punjabi, Kannada, Malayalam, Assamese and Oriya).

The service was later expanded to Indonesia in November 2009, China in May 2010 and Nigeria in November 2010. The service has been created from the ground-up, having teams in local markets where they work with government organizations, NGOs, universities and reputed partners and content providers. The unit is headed by Jawahar Kanjilal, Global Head for Nokia Life. singapore-jawahar-kanjilal-nokia-emerging-market.html

6. Reuters Market Light: Reuters Market Light also provides customized agricultural information to the farmers using text messages on mobile phones. It has been running for six years. In March 2013 it went independent from Reuters through Venture Capital fund, Ivy Cap.

The service provide farmers with personalised timely and actionable agricultural information from pre-sowing to post-harvest stages in their local language. About 1.4 million Indian farmers from an estimated 50,000 villages have used this service across 18 states. Through sharing among farmers, it is estimated to have reached 5 million farmers. RML covers over 450 crop and crop varieties and more than 1300 markets. With this service, individual farmers gained up to INR 200,000 ($ 4000) of additional profits, and savings of nearly INR 400,000 ($8000), marking a significant return on their investment. another%20wave%20of%20development/index.htm

7. aAqua (Almost All Questions Answered) an internet based discussion portal for farmers that also supports text messages. Available at in 4 languages, 420 districts of India and some places abroad.

Answers to agri-related queries are sent in 24 to 72 hours depending on the difficulty. Experts are employees of their respective organizations and serve without charge. Anyone with access to PC or mobile phone plus GPRS/ Internet connection/Email can ask questions and view answers. User will have to register with the forum to ask a question (no charges for our users). The service is sponsored by support from Agrocom Software Technologies. Agrocom does not sell any kind of agri- inputs to farmers. listthreads?forum=241

8. Government’s Kisan Call Centres that deliver agricultural extension services on toll-free phones. The Department of Agriculture & Cooperation (DAC), Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India launched Kisan Call Centers on January 21, 2004 across the country to deliver extension services to the farming community.

The purpose of these call centers is to respond to issues raised by farmers, instantly, in the local language. There are a call centers for every state which are expected to handle traffic from any part of the country. Queries related to agriculture and allied sectors are being addressed through these call centers. At present 25 Kisan Call Centres are functioning throughout different States of the Country and answering the farmers queries in 22 local dialects from 6 am to 10 pm on all 7 days a week. centres-in-india_87.html indias-rural-poor-f_b_4117991.html

9. M-Pesa is a mobile money transfer service conceptualised in Kenya by Safaricom/Vodafone and funded in part by the UK government. M-Pesa has since grown exponentially with a user base of over 50% of Kenya’s adult population, throughput of over 11% of the country’s GDP and higher transfer rates than those of Western Union globally. It has expanded to Afghanistan, South Africa, India and in 2014 to Eastern Europe. M-Pesa allows users with a national ID card or passport to deposit, withdraw, and transfer money easily with a mobile device. Other operators in the region have also deployed simillar services.

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M-Pesa’s success can largely be attributed to its open business model that allows local entrepreneurs and organisations to serve as M-Pesa agents. They pretty much act as rudimentary bankers that exchange hard cash for virtual cash stored in mobile phones. The virtual cash is transferable to all Safaricom subscribers who can withdraw the same as hard cash at any of the over 20,000 agents countrywide. The mobile operator charges a commission for the service, part of which is shared with the agent. An agency model such as the one used by M-Pesa has exponentially expanded the service and has allowed the service to permeate across all sectors of society across the country. A seasoned salesman would say “sell to people how they like to be sold to” and M-Pesa has done exactly that.

By partnering with local shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, banks and other formal as well as semi-formal organisations, M-Pesa has piggy backed on established social and business networks to create a service that is very convenient with huge customer satisfaction.

Commerical banks have also jumped into the bandwagon creating symbiotic relationships and partnerships with Safaricom. The biggest so far has been with Equity Bank on a product dubbed M-Kesho. This service allows M-Pesa account holders to register for a virtual bank account that enables them to transfer their M-Pesa balances into a virtual bank account that would accrue returns on savings. All this is done without filling up more forms, as the data that already exists with the mobile operator is shared with the bank. These meet all regulatory requirements including KYC rules and regulation of deposit taking institutions as the money is moved to the bank and M-Pesa just facilitates the transfer of money from one point to another.

In India, it launched in close partnership with HDFC & ICICI bank. Vodafone has incorporated a subsidiary with M-Pesa named VODAFONE M-PESA LIMITED under supervision of Mr Vivek Mathur & Mr SUNIL SOOD to execute operations. Vodafone plans to rollout this service throughout India. The user needs to register for this service by paying 100 Rupees, on which 25 Rupees will be credited back to the users account and there are charges levied per M-Pesa transaction for money transfer services and DTH and Prepaid recharges can be done through m-pesa for free.

D. Low cost mobile devices

1. Shanzhai Manufacturers: In terms of the number of low cost mobile devices produced, China’s shanzhai manufacturers have arguably done more than any other group in connecting impoverished people to the Internet and the voice/text infrastructure. Typically dismissed by popular press as simply the “copycat barons from China.

Needless to say, we see many of our international and Chinese clients intimidated by the speed of Shanzhai and bewildered by the apparent ruthlessness with which they imitate, alter, and remix features, designs, and even entire products. Shanzhai manufacturers can design, build, and take mobile phones to market in as little as 40 days, while “legitimate” manufacturers take longer to merely secure and approve their budgets for similar initiatives. role-innovation-strategy/ chinas-mass-production-system/370898/

One interesting angle is that intellectual property law is a major barrier to greater access, because of the incredibly high cost of mainstream mobile devices. Lowering that barrier to entry is what the shanzhai do best, though you’ll get a very different opinion on that if you ask a representative of one of the big mobile hardware companies whose designs/patents/work are being reverse engineered by the shanzhai.

2. Android One, Google’s program to standardize and improve low-cost Android devices, can help push the cost of a pocket computer down to affordable levels, but without reliable internet access, the power of a smartphone is hampered.

In the past year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been backing a plan called Digital India, which is a sprawling $1.2 billion program with many aims, but one of its primary concerns is providing high-quality internet connections in the most remote parts of the country. nexus-line-for-inexpensive-phones/ keynote.html

3. Micromax
D. Mobile charging:

1. BioLite HomeStove: More than 3 billion people cook on wood and other solid fuels. The toxic smoke that results from these indoor cooking fires kills nearly 4 million people every year, most of which are women and children, and is one of the largest contributors to human-driven climate change. Although less costly than petroleum alternatives, solid fuel is not free. Families spend 2-4 hours per day collecting firewood and, in areas where wood must be purchased, it can account for 10-15% of their income.

Designed to address these issues, the BioLite HomeStove is an advanced, low-cost forced draft biomass cookstove that uses BioLite’s patented thermoelectric fan technology to reduce toxic indoor smoke by up to 90%, eliminate up to 2.5 tons of greenhouse gas emissions (CO¬2e) per stove each year, and provide users with the capability

to charge mobile phones, LED lights, and other USB- powered electronics, generating direct economic returns through a combination of fuel savings and electricity generation.

The BioLite stove is the only cookstove in the world capable of generating electricity from its own waste-heat. The stove is currently capable of producing between 2-3 watts of electricity during cooking, enough power to fully charge a mobile phone and provide an evening’s worth of light. The capacity to charge these devices can serve as the catalyst to widespread adoption throughout the rapidly expanding developing world markets – a value proposition that no other stove to date has been able to leverage.

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BioLite has set a retail price of $40 for the HomeStove, based on substantial research on willingness-to-pay in rural and peri-urban India and Sub-Saharan Africa. We utilize a two-pronged approach for distribution. The primary channel is consumer retail sales, which we access through a range of partnerships with established local players. The secondary channel is institutional sales, which consists of sales to governments, multilaterals and NGOs for humanitarian situations and for world-class research on the social and environmental impact of the product.

Project Leader: Ethan Kay Organisation: BioLite LLC Designed By: Jonathan Cedar

2. Solar powered charger: London-based company, BuffaloGrid has invented a portable mobile phone charging unit (the Hub) powered by solar energy. Prototypes have already been successfully tested in remote villages in Uganda and Ghana. The Buffalo Grid Hub was introduced introduced to India this December, they claim to 10 million new subscribers every month. Its early trials in Uganda was 3 years ago. A £190,360 Smart award from Innovate UK, helped the company develop the internet capability of the units. In 2013, it was one of 16 UK businesses selected by Innovate UK and UK Trade & Investment for an entrepreneur-led mission to Bangalore and New Delhi to open up their business to the Indian market.

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A BuffaloGrid Hub with a full solar charge can last for 3 days and charge around 100 phones a day. It works on a very simple business model:
– a villager wanting to charge a mobile phone sends a low- cost text message to the charging hub

– once the message is received, an LED above the charging port on the unit lights up indicating that it’s ready to charge the phone
– the phone is plugged in and charged by solar power stored in the hub’s battery
– a text message allows a phone to be charged for about 90 minutes

The solar-powered hub could be a platform for other services to reach remote communities. BuffaloGrid are already working with partners on providing banking and remote medical diagnosis services and interactive educational material.

The company is currently building the first units which
will be distributed free – but will provide a revenue stream when they’re up and running. The company is now looking for new partners and investment to keep things rolling forward and move towards mass production of the hubs. g1c4anbfzpjgm4p932j9a6k3oadi6g

E. Open Source Hardware & software: According to the ITU, 2-3 billion people around the world lack affordable mobile telephone services that facilitate critical communications and access to information. Due to market saturation in developed countries and economic disincentive in the developing world and especially rural areas, mobile coverage proliferation is slowing dramatically worldwide. And yet most telecom regulations forbid the provision of strictly rural service, effectively killing any chance for micro-telco’s to thrive.

Currently, only very large, powerful companies have access to the mobile spectrum and the concessions to provide cellular service. But their business model and the technology that these traditional providers use have proven unable to solve the problem of connecting much of the world. Thanks to a variety of open-source efforts developed in the last few years, it has become technologically and economically feasible for a community or an individual to provide carrier-grade cellular service to thousands of people.

Following are some great cell service projects focused on increasing coverage in remote areas:

1. OpenBTS is a Unix application that uses a software radio to present a GSM air interface to standard 2G GSM handset and uses a SIP softswitch or PBX to connect calls.

The combination of the global-standard GSM air interface with low-cost VoIP backhaul forms the basis of a new type of cellular network that can be deployed and operated at substantially lower cost than existing technologies in many applications, including rural cellular deployments and private cellular networks in remote areas.

OpenBTS is distributed in two forms:

– The public (“P”) release. The public release is distributed under AGPLv3 ( licenses/agpl.html ) with copyrights assigned to the Free Software Foundation. The public release is a subset of the commercial release intended for experimentation, education, evaluation and proof-of-concept projects.

– The commercial (“C”) release. The commercial release is installed in Range Networks products under a mix of GPL and non-GPL licenses. Range Networks also offers a customer portal for commercial customers where source code is available for the GPL components of the OpenBTS installation. The “C” release is intended for users:
a. who need to provide cellular service in industrial, government or commercial applications,
b. whose intellectual property policies or business models are incompatible with A/GPLv3 or
c. who require commercial support, network monitoring or other professional services.

During the Burning Man festival in August 2008, a week- long live field test was run under special temporary authorization license.

2. Serval Mesh: Serval Mesh pioneered the development of open source software to create autonomous mesh- based voice and data networks among wifi-enabled mobile phones, creating “cellular commons” comprised of self-organizing cell phones forming voice and data networks without the support of telephone companies or infrastructure.

3. The Rhizomatica project in rural Mexico help to build and maintain community owned and operated GSM/ cellular infrastructure.


a. The “Mesh-Casting” project is designed to put the mobile phone front and center in information gathering and distribution while providing a less expensive and more-connected communication alternative. With financial support from Amnesty International and Internews, Rhizomatica has been coordinating this project in conjunction with the Media for Justice Project (http:// based at the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) ( in Nigeria.


The project provides communications solutions for a group of activists, citizen journalists and human rights monitors working in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, and focus on a handful of small, proximate “slum” or “shanty” communities in the city of Port Harcourt. In 2008 these neighborhoods were set to be demolished and the tens of thousands of residents displaced to make way for a dubious urban renewal scheme, a process that has been defined and legitimized by a heavy media campaign sponsored by the Rivers State government with the complicity of local news outlets in order to justify their actions by classifying these neighborhoods as “havens for criminality” and therefore necessary to raze. As many of these communities have existed for decades, the residents have been organizing in an attempt to stop the demolitions and disseminate the truth about their communities, the misdeeds of government and their right to remain in their homes.

 Technology: Mesh-Casting builds on the work of the Serval Project ( The mesh

is further enhanced by a “Rhizome”, an application that allows news, geographical information, software and other content to be rapidly distributed throughout the cellular commons without cost. As the phones themselves create an independent network that can blanket a space of over one square kilometer (and when scaled up, much larger areas), the mobile reporters are able to provide news coverage directly from their phones and digitally “reinforce” their community without having to connect to the internet or GSM carriers. Content produced so far ranges from documentary evidence of human rights abuses to more in-depth coverage (video) of the everyday hopes, struggles and realities of people living in the target neighborhoods.

2. Endaga: It’s an open-source implementation of the cellular stack. A startup that spun out of the Technology Infrastructure for Emerging Regions group at the University of California at Berkeley, has developed a low-cost alternative for developing countries that could also fill critical gaps in the United States.

Endaga founder Kurtis Heimerl created the CCN1 – named for “community cellular network” – as part of his Ph.D. work at Berkeley. It’s a box a little larger than a notebook computer, which makes sense since it is a PC with a few extras added.

The box, which provides cell coverage in a 6.2 mile radius, draws only about 80 Watts of power. A system Endaga  installed in Papua, Indonesia, is powered by a solar panel. While the CCN1 communicates with cell phones in

the field using standard cell stacks and frequencies, it converts the signals to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and transmits via a satellite link or long-distance Wi-Fi.

It Costs approximately $6,000 for a turnkey solution that includes the CNN1 and software for managing the network.

3. AirJaldi : is a commercial network operator that aims at providing last mile connectivity in rural India
at reduced and affordable costs. AirJaldi purchases huge bandwidth from ISPs like AirTel and distributes it to its clients, offering speeds ranging from 256 kbps to 6 mbps, though it is capable of offering speeds as high as 60-70 mbps. Also AirJaldi uses solar powered wireless relays that are mounted on small poles to create a connection network that has less down time. AirJaldi is currently available only in certain areas in rural India and is looking to expand its reach further.


Right now 70 percent of clients are nonprofits, schools, rural banks and other rural institutions. The other 30 percent are private clients who are largely middle class.


Few interesting papers:

1. Low-cost Communication for Rural Internet Kiosks Using Mechanical Backhau. kiosks.pdf

2. An Exploratory Case Study of India’s Rural Communication Environment by Motorola research lab India

3. Who’s got the phone? Gender and the use of the telephone at the bottom of the pyramid


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