Using blockchain to overcome the challenge of universal connectivity
The legacy telecommunications industry is failing to respond to the commoditisation of its services and the consequences this change has for its business model.
For the 3.6 billion people still unconnected, there is no way of entering the existing network, and with personal data being exploited so readily within it, a good argument can be made that they should not.
The unconnected demographic needs a new network that recognises some human right to connection, the sovereignty of its subscribers, and the wider challenges faced in connecting them, namely coverage and affordability.
When you add the tremendous potential of blockchain to unlock financial services for this emerging market, we have a network that practically serves its members with the power to change the game for everyone.
Africa is the world’s largest growing workforce with a disproportionate lack of access to the global economy. Knowing this, I started World Mobile Group with my family and business partners to address this challenge of mass inclusion.
To me, 3.6 billion people are being denied something they absolutely should have: access to the internet, its economic benefits, and the wider world. Creating a business model to bridge the gap between these two factors should make sense to everyone, but such a model needs to serve the people in a tangible way.
Once this became clear, I began considering the necessity of a shared economic model for connecting the unconnected.
In Africa, we have already shown that TV white space can deliver high quality connection at a fraction of the price associated with 4G and 5G connection speeds.
By being agnostic with our tech stack and choosing the most cost-effective options, we can pass some savings onto the user, but that alone is not enough. We need to find ways of bringing the value of the network back to the people that it relies upon.
We can share the financial returns of the network if we invite our users to operate it. World Mobile Group gives anyone the option of becoming an owner of the network, sharing its connectivity, and becoming a local telecom node operator.
The transactions that take place across that node equal a financial payback for the node operator. By opening up the network to everyone, the security and performance of the network becomes a shared responsibility.
Reclaiming Personal Data
I am not comfortable with how much access service providers have to our data or how readily we permit that access. I also think the consumer is learning quickly about this issue and has similar concerns.
We need to think about the future and how the internet and connection is going to change. We need a new relationship with connectivity, a new approach to how we connect people. We need to finally safeguard and protect the integrity of the user and empower them within the digital space.
Again, we come back to sharing, but in this context we are recognising the sovereignty of the network user and their data. For mass inclusion projects in Africa and beyond, we must ensure the security of users while empowering them in as many economic ways as possible to maximise affordability.
A network has to serve its community, and redefining data ownership alongside options to unlock its value are critical divergences from the conventional approach that World Mobile Group incorporates. This is a new network for a new world, with inclusion, sharing, and empowerment as its core values.
The reality is we have an opportunity to create a new network, unreliant on mining data, that creates a degree of privatisation from which many people can benefit. Such a network should be attractive to everyone, not just the disenfranchised.
There is too much power, too much monopoly, too much stagnation with the current operators, and no long-term forecasting for what the consumer will want from the internet in the future. The relationship will change, and it is logical that as consumers demand more of a role, networks will become cooperation platforms, not just services.
There is much talk of the potential for blockchain tech to bank the unbanked, but you simply cannot even consider this service until you have enabled access.
A sustained rollout of mass inclusion is the prelude to enabling the kind of economic opportunities that blockchain underpins, but the synergy between those two services would be a revolution for the unconnected.
Blockchain can leapfrog centralised formal institutions that act as an obstacle to financial empowerment for many.
So much has changed in the blockchain space, and its various examples need to consolidate. It is all about cooperation within the industry as well as provision of meaningful services.
Big institutions like the UN and the International Telecommunication Union know that the challenge of universal connectivity can only be overcome when organisations like themselves combine with regulators, governments, and the private sector under one shared goal. Their message is undeniable – we only achieve big things when we address them together.
Yet again, we return to the concept of sharing, but now we are talking about goals.
The partnership between World Mobile Group and IOHK is a perfect synergy because together we share a goal. We can deliver something remarkable to an emerging market that not only drives their economy but represents a fairer relationship to connection.
A relationship based on sustainability that empowers its subscribers, will be envied by anyone trapped in a conventional agreement.
Micky Watkins is a technology entrepreneur who has worked in telecom for 20 years.
He is the founder and CEO of World Mobile Group, a company committed to delivering mass inclusion for the digital space and pioneering new standards for data protection and governance.