Technology Transmission tower - Courtesy of Shutterstock

Published on May 15th, 2013 | by KateSimmons


Why Extending Cell Coverage Can Change Lives

One might not think that the jungles of the Congo and rural Alabama have a lot in common, but there is one key similarity between the two places which links them together in the strangest of ways: they are two places where it is difficult to receive a phone signal. Why is this important? Well we live in an interconnected technological world, and many rural areas all over the globe are missing out on the benefits of being connected. Spending money on extending cell phone coverage does not seem to be the most important task in the world, in places like the war-ravaged Congo, yet the positive knock-on effects from having telephone and mobile internet access are actually huge. Extending mobile telecommunication access can help enrich areas economically, culturally and academically—ensuring a brighter future for the who live there.

Transmission tower - Courtesy of Shutterstock

Transmission tower – Courtesy of Shutterstock

Why phone access matters, and why it is so hard to achieve

Africa is the next big market for mobile communication companies, yet there is a serious divide on the continent between towns and the countryside. Reception is a constant problem for phone owners across much of Africa, as phones can become useless less than a mile out of town or city centres. Because of this, Africans who do own phones often own multiple sim cards to heighten their chance to receiving a signal. Yet this system is bad for telecoms companies and it is bad for consumers, as the multiple sim-card system means that companies are confused about levels are market penetration while at the same time phone users are not getting the best deal. It also perpetuates the problem of rural access: companies are too focused on building there urban businesses and are not yet willing to invest in extending coverage out into less populated areas.

Getting mobile internet into schools and businesses

Battery-powered devices like smartphones are actually preferable to computers in many areas of Africa because they do not need a constant supply of electricity and last longer than laptops between charges—something which is extremely useful in areas were electricity is not always reliable. Many micro-finance companies have been helping villages band together to buy a shared smartphone for education and commercial purposes, but this noble scheme still has the problem that many villagers need to walk for several miles to even use the phone. The applications of just one smartphone in a village are massive: children can learn, farmers can get information about the weather and businesses can call clients instead of walking or paying for buses to meet them in the nearest town or city. But without extended signal coverage, these benefits can’t be truly realised.

Bringing life back to isolated communities

Again, it is not just the developing world that can benefit from increased cell phone coverage. Large pockets of the rural south in the USA are often without reception, let alone wireless internet, and in such places doing business can be tough. There is also a danger element: many small villages in the tornado belt do not get cell phone coverage and therefore there is often a time-lag when attempting to warn such communities about impending disasters. Many of these communities are often economically deprived, and problems with communications make it hard for small businesses to grow and flourish in said places—furthering economic stagnation.

The tech side to cell coverage

Most communication companies have been wary of investing in rural areas because the potential subscribers gained do not immediately warrant the cost in installing expensive phone masts and towers. One way around this cost barrier is the idea of using mini-towers and private wireless networks such as the planned picocell network in the Congo by RascomStar, but even then there are worries about cost and feasibility. In the long term however, all the above reasons for expanding cell coverage should be taken into account. While investing in cell phone coverage and phone towers might not bring a short-term return, it is a long-term investment that will eventually yield rewards.

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About the Author

Kate Simmons is a freelance writer and occasional blogger. If her article got you interested, feel free to follow or reach out to her via G+ or Twitter.

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