Connectivity is the bedrock of digital inclusion, and networks will be the infrastructure of connections. As the first step of our digital inclusion strategy, Huawei aims to build wider, more convenient, and easier-to-use connections.
According to GSMA, more than 1 billion people are not covered by mobile broadband services, while a further 3.8 billion people are still offline. That's half of the world's population. To help connect the 1 billion people in the world that have no access to mobile broadband, Huawei continues to roll out innovative solutions and deploy base stations quickly and at a low cost.
We use our technologies to make base stations lighter and power these stations with solar power, greatly reducing network deployment costs. These efforts have allowed people in remote areas to enjoy effective communication services.
In Nigeria, 51% of the population lives in rural villages scattered across vast grasslands or forests, and many villagers lack basic communications infrastructure and live in an "information silo". As mobile signal coverage is poor, most villagers have to walk several miles to make a call in town. The cost of building traditional base stations there is very high due to poor infrastructure and lack of mains supply or power transmission facilities. In addition, the average revenue per user (ARPU) is as low as US$1 to US$1.5, meaning it can take over 10 years to recoup investment.
To solve this problem, Huawei and MTN Group worked together to deploy the Huawei RuralStar 2.0 solution in Nigeria to bring network connections to remote areas. Each RuralStar 2.0 base station employs six solar panels, and does not need an external power supply.
The chief of Tobolo village, Ogun, said that these affordable connections helped Tobolo villagers get in touch with family members away from the village, and this meant a lot to them. A principal of the primary school in Tobolo said: "Now we don't have to take a bus to the Education Bureau 30 kilometers away just to fetch teaching materials. This wireless communication allows us to learn more quickly and easily."
With connectivity, villages are not only connected to each other; they are also connected to a wider world abundant with opportunities and changes.
In 2017, Huawei launched RuralStar, the predecessor of RuralStar 2.0. RuralStar aims to bring ultra-long-distance voice and digital access services to rural areas at affordable prices. In less than a year, the solution quickly enabled Internet access for 20 million previously unconnected people. By the end of 2018, Huawei RuralStar had covered 40 million rural residents that previously had no access to the Internet.
In 2019, Huawei released the RuralStar Lite solution, which reduced deployment costs. The solution provides coverage for more remote villages that only have 500 to 1,000 residents. It has helped carriers quickly grow their user base and reduce the payback period to less than three years.
To date, we have deployed RuralStar in more than 50 countries and used it in more than 110 networks worldwide. The solution meets the demand of different scenarios, including urban villages, rural areas, deserts, islands, highways, plains, hills, and tunnels.
At Mobile World Congress 2018, RuralStar won the Best Mobile Innovation for Emerging Markets award. Thanks to RuralStar, remote areas can now gain access to smart agriculture, e-government, telemedicine, mobile healthcare, smart energy, and mobile payment services.
Broadband penetration in Sri Lanka was only 2% in 2013, far below the global average of 9.3%. Digital dividends remain out of reach for many people. This is attributable to the relatively low urbanization rate. Some 80% of Sri Lankans live in the countryside, where population density is low, making the provisioning of fixed-line broadband coverage very expensive. Developing broadband for home and SME users to bridge the digital divide is a top priority for Sri Lanka's government and telecom industry.
Together with Dialog, a local carrier, Huawei brought Sri Lanka's digitization to the next level. In 2013, Dialog started to deploy Huawei's WTTx solution to provide wireless home broadband services that were affordable and quick to deploy and upgrade. 67% of the country's population now has access to mobile broadband services. The home broadband user base is growing three times faster than before, which means that 15% of households are now connected. The WTTx technology adopted by Dialog has helped Sri Lanka advance in many areas, including remote education, medical diagnosis, women's education, and climate change actions. It has also helped Sri Lanka reach multiple sustainable development goals including those in poverty eradication, industrial innovation, education improvement, and environmental improvement.
According to a study published by the United States National Library of Medicine in August 2017, while some studies focused on the unbalanced level of health conditions in Mongolia, few highlighted the unequal distribution of medical resources due to geographical constraints. This study found that distribution of doctors, nurses, and beds in Mongolia varied from region to region, and there was a lack of healthcare for children and adults in remote areas. According to the latest UNESCO data, social inequalities still exist in the country, which not only manifest in healthcare, but also in education.
Inequality in healthcare and education has exacerbated the disparity between rich and poor in Mongolia, reducing national economic participation and productivity. Providing better broadband connections is one way to narrow these gaps.
In January 2017, Huawei and Unitel, a Mongolian carrier, launched a plug-and-play Wi-Fi solution for households. This solution works on Unitel's live 4.5G LTE networks across the country, supported by Huawei's B315s-607 wireless router, which is provided to users by Unitel at subsidized rates or free of charge. So far, the service has connected an additional 8% of the population, including 50,000 households, 200,000 individual users, and 1,200 businesses.
Wireless broadband networks also help improve medical services and education. A total of 74 hospitals in Mongolia now offer online consultations to extend the reach of their medical services. In addition, increasing Internet access has allowed 35,000 rural medical professionals to receive further education. Now 35 rural public schools can access and download videos and education materials online.
For 600,000 households that are still offline, Huawei and Unitel plan to add an extra 1,200 base stations. By 2020, the project will connect 300,000 more residents to wireless broadband.
The majority of French residents live in cities, meaning the return on investment for rural networks is low, hindering network rollout in these areas. According to a report released by French telecom regulator ARCEP in 2009, 99.82% of the population and 97.7% of French regions are covered by telecommunications networks. The unconnected areas are called white zones. By the end of 2018, ARCEP had identified more than 4,000 white-zone towns in France, in which 1% of the nation's total population live.
To address network coverage in white zones, the French government has launched a "white-zone project". Four major carriers have agreed to share their networks in these zones to provide basic voice, SMS, and network services.
Since 2011, Huawei has collaborated with Bouygues Telecom to deploy 3G networks in these white zones. By 2018, we helped cover 3,300 of the 4,000 white zones with 3G networks, and plan to start 4G rollout later this year. All of these zones will be covered with 4G by 2022.
The Republic of Ireland has a population of 4.7 million. Roughly 750,000 households live in the suburbs, where broadband coverage is low. The Irish government initiated a national broadband project in 2012, mandating fiber connections for these households. During the initial bidding on the networks for 450,000 households in more remote areas, all three bidders withdrew due to high costs in laying out fiber optical cables. Ultimately, a local carrier Imagine took on the challenge and started to provide broadband coverage for these areas by using Huawei's TDD-8T8R, a WTTx solution.
This TDD-8T8R solution was tailored to provide wireless broadband coverage for remote areas. Its premium quality ensures fast commercial use and user base growth.
As of today, Imagine has brought fast broadband services to more than 20,000 households in Irish suburbs and has been able to secure an additional investment of 120 million euros. At the same time, Imagine is actively communicating with the Irish government, hoping to include fixed wireless access in future government plans.