As part of the Millennium Villages project, Ericsson and operator, Zain have built a green-powered site in the remote village of Dertu in northeastern Kenya. Using a combination of wind and solar power addresses the two key deterrents to building telecommunication infrastructure in remote areas: operating costs and power supply reliability.
Jan Embro, President of Ericsson in sub-Saharan Africa, says: "The ideal climate conditions mean we expect to see an 80 percent reduction in energy-related operational costs for the site, compared with using diesel generators. Green sites like this one have great potential for solving the power-grid challenge across Africa to bring mobile communication to the poorest of the poor so they can improve their lives and break the poverty cycle."
Chris Gabriel, CEO of Zain Africa, added: "With reliable and affordable mobile voice and data communication, Dertu's nomadic pastoral community of more than 5000 people has the chance to build on the economic and social gains it has made since Ericsson and Zain, partnering with the Earth Institute, first brought mobile communication to the region through a temporary network installed last year."
Since then, rather than making the 100km journey by dirt road to the larger city of Garissa, many people from nearby communities go to Dertu to make calls, access improved health services and take advantage of new businesses - making the village an economic hub for the region.
Ahmed Mohamed, the science coordinator for the Millennium Villages project in Dertu, says: "The people of Dertu say the arrival of the mobile network is the day when Dertu was reborn; reborn because of business development. Since the mobile network came, the pastoralists who earn their living from livestock just call the neighboring town for the price of cattle, and the moment they know they can easily take the animals to the market or, if the price is low, the animals continue grazing. It's wonderful, wonderful. There is no greater support you can give a community than that."
Pastoralists are also using their mobile phones to spread information about where to find good pasture and water, which is often hard to come by in the extremely arid region. Phones have also been used to find child herders who have become lost roaming over vast distances in search of feed.
The social impact has also been significant, bringing families closer to distant relatives, providing vital local connections for better health care and remote education, and a way to communicate quickly with government agencies to ensure timely relief in emergency situations, such as damage to the village bore, the only water supply.
The more than 3000 phone minutes logged daily have also created a market for items such as SIM cards, second-hand phones, scratch cards, charging and accessories, while local business people can slash transport costs through mobile ordering and invoicing.
Today, there are more than 4 billion mobile subscriptions globally. The Dertu experience demonstrates that connecting the next billion people, even those in the most remote parts of the world, can be achieved with a positive business case while ensuring services are affordable for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.