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The last mile
Bringing connectivity to the world’s most remote regions
Connecting to Opportunity
Reliable Internet connectivity is critical to economic growth and social inclusion, but as the Broadband
Commission’s The State of Broadband 2015 report notes, 57% of the world’s population does not have
regular access to the Internet. In addition, the United Nations Foundation reports that 2.2 billion people
across the globe don’t even have access to reliable electricity.
In the world’s poorest and most remote areas, this lack of fundamental infrastructure is impeding
innovation and stymying growth. To address this issue, forward-thinking companies are developing
creative solutions that can help bring the power of the knowledge economy to the Internet’s “last mile”.
Voto is a cell phone charger and LED light that can be powered with a traditional cooking fire. The device’s
fuel cell, developed after a decade of research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley
Lab), is made from low-cost stainless steel, rather than ceramics, making it extremely durable—it can
withstand fast-rising temperatures and interact with the impurities found in biomass, such as charcoal, wood
or even cow dung.
The fuel cell is placed in a fire. Later, the handle, which contains circuitry that charges the cell as the
temperature rises, can be detached and used to power a phone or provide light.
A study by McKinsey & Company found that a substantial majority of offline individuals are poor, rural
and live in a developing country. OneWeb aims to bridge the digital divide via 648 low-orbit satellites
that provide low-cost, high-speed Internet access in remote areas. Small terminals communicate with the
satellites, transmitting LTE, 3G and Wi-Fi directly to cell phones, tablets and laptops.
Because the satellites are mass-produced with a minimum number of components, they are less
expensive to launch. In addition to providing connectivity in far-flung regions, the
satellites can also be deployed during sudden infrastructure breakdowns due to catastrophic weather
conditions, such as earthquakes or hurricanes.
One major barrier to technology-driven developments is the location of public electricity grids. Rural villages
in Kenya are often located far away from grids and fibre-optic networks, leaving many citizens without
access to the Internet. Now, Mawingu Networks is offering a new way for Kenyans to access the knowledge
economy. The company delivers wireless connectivity through a network of solar-powered wireless Internet
stations and unused television frequencies known as TV White Space.
Mawingu Networks currently provides customers with 15 Mbps broadband and device recharging for $3 per
month. In July 2015, the US government’s development finance institution, the Overseas Private Investment
Corporation, began discussions with Mawingu to provide a potential $4 million loan for commercial
expansion of the company’s operations.
Project Loon is a network of balloons that travel through the stratosphere, approximately 20 kilometres
above the earth, twice as high as aeroplanes. Software algorithms coordinate the balloons with layers of
wind in the stratosphere so that they can form a single communications network. Project Loon partners
with telecommunications companies to connect the balloon network to their phones and other LTE-
The programme is still in development, though it has seen significant progress since the 2013 launch.
The balloons can now last 100 days in the stratosphere, and can provide connectivity to a ground area
80 kilometres in diameter. The balloons have been launched in New Zealand, Brazil and California.