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World Telecom Lab Survey: Universal Service Fund Still Tops Penetration Hope


…Firm Pushes Vivada Initiative For Africa

A recent survey conducted by the World Telecom Labs has revealed that the best option for accelerating penetration of voice and data communication in rural, underserved and unserved areas has remained the Universal Service Fund (USF).

The survey, which reached out to vendors; operators and ISPs; Non-Governmental Organisations and Government Officials to share their experience and opinions about USF and to identify where improvements could be made in the management of USF, revealed that 96% of survey respondents see USF as offering huge potential to solve connectivity and service delivery issues in rural environments.

It further showed that despite the main identified obstacle of excessive bureaucracy and inflexibility of USF rules, operators, NGOs and Government Agencies all expressed an interest in delivering connectivity to unconnected areas with 86% of respondents feeling strongly that a combination of all three is required in order to unlock investment. This implies that connecting the unconnected requires a collaborative approach between all relevant stakeholders, including vendors who can offer technology to deliver the connectivity required.

However, with only 25% of the respondents having been directly involved with a network built using money from USF and were extremely well-informed and open to sharing their thoughts, concerns were raised about the sustainability of rural investments.

Managing Director of WTL, Leigh Smith, said: “People were very open and eager to share their experiences and opinions; and most were extremely positive about the economic benefits of providing voice and data to areas which are still unconnected. Connecting the unconnected continues to be a hot topic with companies such as Facebook and Google investing heavily in their own initiatives.”

WTL has built a number of networks in rural Africa partly financed by USF and has seen for itself the immense benefits USF can bring, irrespective of its challenges. In particular, the deployment of WTL’s Vivada (Village Voice and Data) system in rural areas is an example of a strong and productive use of USF funds.

Vivada is specifically developed so that large and small operators can build low OPEX, low-CAPEX networks for all types of pre and post-paid customers with varying telecoms budgets including GSM for every type of handset; wifi connectivity and connectivity to cybercafés and hotspot call cabins.

Vivada includes a micro GSM base station, wifi routers and modems, backhaul integration, billing software, VoIP switches and an SMS server.

It uses Hybrid VoIP/Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) switches which have been specifically designed to replace the huge, expensive, maintenance-heavy switches that have traditionally been used to transfer VoIP traffic onto other networks.

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