Mobile devices: An opportunity for rural communities

WIRELESS REACH: A fisherman in Tamil Nadu, India using his handphone to gauge weather conditions.

Today, we are already seeing how mobile devices positively impact the socio-economic development of emerging nations around the world. In fact, studies show that having sufficient mobile broadband penetration can add as much as 0.2% to GDP growth in high-income nations and 0.11% in low-income nations.

And, as mobile connectivity spreads, access to critical government services, business resources, educational materials and health care services are greatly improved.

Living in Southeast Asia, I have been fortunate to see firsthand the transformative power that mobile connectivity has had for people all over the region.

However, there remains a great deal to be done—especially as we strive to achieve equitable growth for all people living in Asia and other emerging regions.

Let’s take Malaysia as an example. Malaysia’s average annual growth rate is 4.7%. About 72% of the country’s 33 million people live in urban areas and a large percentage of those are already engaged in knowledge-based industries.

However, there are 7.8 million people living in rural parts of the country whose living standard and livelihoods could be enhanced. A key tool to increasing impact is to increase access to information and basic services and one of the most effective ways to do so is to increase mobile broadband coverage and penetration.

The Malaysian Government can assist this coverage and penetration increase by making more sub 1GHz spectrum available, in particular; the 700MHz band and the extended 850MHz frequency bands are suitable for achieving wide-area coverage in urban and rural environments.

To highlight the benefits of mobile connectivity in a rural context, Qualcomm and Universiti Putra Malaysia recently held a national seminar called Enriching Lives of the Rural Community Using Mobile Technology.

I had the privilege of presenting a paper at this seminar along with academics, government officials and other representatives from the mobile industry.

At the seminar, Universiti Putra Malaysia introduced research they have undertaken that shows benefits derived by Malaysians engaged in small-scale fishing and agriculture include; access to timely weather information, market information, as well as communication with other fishermen and with their families.

In Malaysia and many other parts of the world, the majority of rural populations are supported by traditional livelihoods such as fishing and farming. These communities can greatly benefit from the increased access to information brought about by mobile devices.

I know this is the case thanks to  projects within Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative where we have seen the benefit mobile brings to fishermen in India and Brazil. The ability to use mobile devices to retrieve reliable, real-time data on weather conditions and to access market prices as well as educational resources empowers rural communities to achieve greater productivity and maximise household revenues.

These benefits help narrow the gap between urban and rural communities in Malaysia, India, Brazil and other parts of the world — strengthening economic opportunity and improving lives on an individual, community and national level.

I look forward to seeing the many ways mobile technology extends and expands these opportunities in Malaysia, my region and other parts of the world.

Alex Orange is director of Government Affairs, Southeast Asia and Pacific, Qualcomm.

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