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09:53 AM

Fund Launched To Bridge Communications Divide

A fund from the GSM Association will back a wide range of projects to bring mobile communications to local communities.

BARCELONA— The GSM Association (GSMA) has launched an initiative to bridge the “digital divide” between developed and developing countries with the establishment of a global development fund.

The fund will back a wide range of projects to bring mobile communications to local communities that so far have not participated in the boom for either fixed or wireless communications services.

“This has the potential of being even bigger and more useful than the Ultra Low Cost or Emerging Handset (EMH) program we launched at last year’s 3GSM World Congress. It will be good for the market and society, and a lot of handset makers, operators and financial institutions are backing the initiative,” Ben Soppitt, director of strategic initiatives at the GSMA told EE Times .

As well as mobile industry players, the GSMA has the ear of the World Bank and various governments for the initiative.

Motorola is a key player in the EMH initiative, having won two rounds of bidding to supply low cost handsets to numerous operators in developing countries over the past 12 months. Soppitt said Motorola is already contributing $0.50 of every handset sold under the EMH program to the development fund.

The project has been in pilot phase since last October at several African and Asian operators, “and we see the 3GSM World Congress here as the appropriate place and time to launch the full program,” said Soppitt.

Several “shared voice” access projects have been trailed successfully, mostly using specialized software from South African group SharedPhone. The company’s software can modify the Motorola C113 and C113a handsets to act as mobile payphones that local communities can use to make a call.

Another project focuses on providing terminals connected to the Internet through mobile technology. The aim is to ascertain what types of terminals are best suited for use in emerging markets.

Another, operated by Grameen Phone in Bangladesh is working with the GSMA on community information centers connected to the Web through Edge modems. One of the terminals being evaluated is the Nivo thin client that is said to reduce significantly the total cost of ownership of a multiple terminal internet centre.

Other participants include Freeplay, which supplies wind-up phone chargers, and Off-Grid Systems, a developer of solar power packs.

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