India, the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country, has had a fast growing economy over the last two decades, and has made slow but solid progress in reducing the number of people living below the poverty line. However, according to the United Nations, India has achieved only mixed success with regards to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs are a set of targets that involve reducing extreme poverty and hunger by half while improving education, health, gender equality and sustainability by 2015.
Aim of the Project
Ericsson launched the Gramjyoti (which means ‘the light of the village’ in Hindi) project to showcase the benefits of mobile broadband for rural India using wireless 3G/High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) technology. It benefited thousands of people in 18 villages and 15 towns in the south-eastern state of Tamil Nadu. The demonstration project started in September 2007 and was successfully completed after two months.
Ericsson – in partnership with Apollo Hospitals, Hand In Hand, Edurite, One97, CNN and Cartoon Network – created a stable ecosystem that demonstrated the benefits of high-speed broadband in supporting rural development. The access provided a range of new services including telemedicine, e-Education, e-Governance, online local information, voice and video-call services, and live TV and entertainment.
The Gramjyoti project in Tamil Nadu sought to demonstrate the social and economic benefits of 3G technology in India and in particular mobile access to high-speed broadband. In particular, the study looked at the impact on the right to education, the right to health, the right to information as well as protection issues in relation to discrimination (in particular the rural divide) and child labour. Human rights have been an intrinsic part of the country’s constitution since it achieved independence in 1947 and can in no way be regarded as a western imposition.
Nature of the Problem
The villages and towns in Tamil Nadu were chosen for the project because they reflect the typical telecom profile of rural India, where many families have little or no access to fixed telephones, but do have access to a mobile phone. The total mobile penetration in rural areas in India is about 6 percent, compared to more than 55 percent in urban areas.
As the fastest growing telecommunications market in the world, India represents an important business opportunity. It has low telephony penetration, particularly in the rural areas, low call rates and a rising consumer income as a result of strong economic growth.
By the end of October 2007, there were a total of 255 million telephones, mobile and fixed, with a monthly addition of around 8 million. Despite this growth, there still remains a substantial number of people in rural areas who do not have access to mobile services. Current networks in India only cover 40 percent of the landmass and 60 percent of the population.
The government policy focus has been towards rural and broadband expansion, a prospect in line with Ericsson’s vision behind this trial project. The project built an efficient and affordable Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA)/ HSPA) rural broadband network that would serve as a blueprint for the widespread introduction of Internet and broadband connectivity, as well as a showcase for operators, media and policy makers on the tangible social and economic benefits of HSPA for rural communities.
Infrastructure and site sharing are one way to bring down the total cost of ownership for an operator while rolling out their mobile network. Operators are able in turn, to provide mobile phone services at more affordable prices. In this project, Ericsson demonstrated the concept by sharing existing towers.
The technology used in the project – the first 3G wireless network in India – was an evolved version of the existing GSM international mobile telephony standard. This was a unique opportunity for Ericsson, as it had secured the 3G license for the trial project. This in turn, has put Ericsson in a prime position to utilise the lessons from the trial for the rollout of the 3G technology once the Indian authorities release 3G licenses.
The social and economic development context in which Ericsson has approached and developed this project is an impressive example of such an innovative development. The project has effectively offered an enriched learning and development experience for the company, project partners, customers and other stakeholders including those the company may seek to work with, in the future. The tangible Human Rights benefits engendered by the project have clearly enhanced the reputation of the Ericsson brand as a socially responsible company, helping to develop good working relationships with national and local government and other stakeholders.
A dialogue with the potential future customers has also been started to maximise its potential. Working with so many different partners all undertaking innovative component parts within the eco-system model have added insight and suggested many opportunities for the future. This must be particularly true for the Value Added Services (VAS), which will almost certainly be an important part of future developments, building in additional revenue streams to maximise the benefits from investments. The project has also served as a test bed for the technology and provided a useful template that can be used in other areas.
Ericsson – in partnership with key sector leaders – was able to unite technology with social work in a comprehensive ecosystem. The partners were selected on the basis of their commitment to a social cause, their involvement at the community level and their ability to reach a large number of people.
Apollo Hospitals – Implemented the telemedicine and mobile healthcare services. They provided all medical equipment, resources (doctors, paramedics), ambulances and medicine.
Edurite Technologies – Focused on e-Learning by standardising the quality of education and use of technology, particularly IT/Internet, to enhance the learning process.
Hand in Hand – Established three citizen centres which provided Internet service, e-Governance, and entertainment and helped in social mobilisation of patients, villagers and students. The centres served as information providers to villagers.
Turner Broadcasting Systems (a division of Time Warner, the media company that also includes CNN and Cartoon Network) – Provide information and entertainment services.
One97 Communications – Provided the voice-based technology to provide local rates on agricultural, weather information and so on.
The pilot achieved the following results:
Three schools with nearly 5000 students were connected. Of these, more than 1000 students experienced high-speed Internet for the first time.
23 sessions of e-Learning with 100 students in each session.
Around 1000 villagers used the citizen centres.
20 sessions of telemedicine were run, with 90 percent of patients given medicines locally.
Ericsson’s Core Technology as an Enabler of Human Rights
Ericsson believes that communication and information is a human need and a prerequisite for development. It has demonstrated through the project how technology can be deployed to empower people in rural areas and be a catalyst for social and economic change.
The Gramjyoti project has touched a number of aspects in people’s lives, particularly relating to improving access to the universal human rights of health, education, livelihood and information.
Health – The project benefited communities by providing health services, as people were able to obtain instant medical advice from live interactive check-ups. This made a real difference, as the alternative would have been to travel long distances to seek medical help.
Education – Ericsson together with its partner provided an end-to-end solution for e-Learning. The offer of ‘any-time, any-place’ learning helped students gain access to new information and educational resources for the first time. The technology substantially reduced costs compared to conventional teaching and was not limited by geographical location; for example, students at schools in rural areas that did not have lab facilities were shown video illustrations of chemical and physical experiments. Teachers in these areas were also able to explain them. At the same time, it also facilitated the monitoring of the progress of all trainees.
Livelihood – One of the applications provided up-to-date information relating to crops, such as the choice of best fertilizers, seeds and rates in the market, which helped the local community get better price for their produce.
Information – The use of Information and Communication Technologies improved information and service delivery through the citizen centres. Integrated and enhanced access to government services through e-Governance helped people save time and money. For example, being able to file a birth certificate online enabled a child to easily get an identification card, which in the future will facilitate their registration in a school, among other things. Without the card, access to basic rights would be hampered. Earlier, because of the distance to government offices and the tedious process, less than 5 percent of villagers registered their children.
Other documents were also facilitated by the citizen centres, which enabled access to a number of other rights. Among them were election card applications, voter registrations, ration card applications and employment search documents.
Ericsson Consumer Lab will conduct a study in India in 2008 that plans to include the villages supported by the Gramjyoti project. The study will analyse the impact of the projects in detail.
The evaluation of the Gramjyoti project recorded the following perceptions from different stakeholders:
Village leaders ensured active participation in the community, ensuring vulnerable groups had access to the new services. The overall feedback from the local community was very positive. Having services and treatment from consultants from reputed hospitals such as Apollo Hospital and the opportunity for teachers and students to follow complex subjects in an accessible way through e-Learning, were two of the key advantages highlighted by the community.
Members of the local business community felt that the project was an exhilarating use of new technology, and its applications truly changed people’s lives. On their project visits, they noted how the local communities had embraced the project and saw that its benefits went beyond the trial period. It demonstrated to them the value of the ecosystem partnership that they had supported. Their positive impression of the project has inspired them to promote the expansion of the project to other parts of India.
Following project monitoring visits, government representatives reiterated the effectiveness of mobile technology to bring urban facilities to rural areas expeditiously. The representatives saw the significant impact of the project, but recognised the need for a partnership approach if it was to be successful. In addition, they extended their support for 3G-based HSPA connectivity to be deployed into rural areas at a commercial level and on a larger scale. This in turn ensured extensive coverage at a lower cost.
A number of conclusions have been drawn since the end of the project that are transferable and can be replicated in other situations. These are the following:
The initiative demonstrated how WCDMA/HSPA technology can be a major catalyst for social and economic empowerment, increasing productivity and quality of life; proving that mobile broadband made changes in people’s lives.
The key differentiator in this trial project was the sustainable and scalable ecosystem that was developed to provide validity to HSPA as a platform to bridge the rural divide. This demonstration project is planned to be rolled out on a commercial basis to other areas of India, utilising existing GSM towers, especially for telemedicine. There will also be a replication of the Gramjyoti pilot in other countries on a trial basis, including Algeria, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
Although, the introduction of mobile communications did not achieve poverty reduction on its own, it certainly made an active contribution towards the MDGs by contributing to the economic and social well-being of poor communities. The project demonstrates that 3G technology is likely to have beneficial impact on the right to health and the right to education when rolled out more widely, provided the phones and technology are accessible to the greatest numbers of people and across all caste and societal divides. In addition, it worked towards the MDG partnership for development, in which cooperation between the public and private sector made the benefits of new technologies available to the rural areas.
Innovative approaches to overcome the digital divide – such as poor infrastructure, low competence levels, high phone prices, regulation and taxation, subscription costs – were considered in order to achieve Ericsson’s vision of an all-communicating world.
The project demonstrated that the technology and business models created, made it not only possible, but also profitable, for potential operators and service providers. Moreover, it showed that the integrated strategy of Ericsson made a meaningful social impact while strengthening Ericsson’s long-term competitiveness in the country.
Telemedicine Initiatives of Ericsson in Rural India
In a new initiative towards providing health care through mobile services, Ericsson and Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation (ATNF) have joined hands to bridge the digital divide in rural India. They have introduced mobile health services via telemedicine.
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