September 19, 2021

Nurturing innovative business models and advancing digital inclusion

Case Study By

Mr. Stéphane Richard

Chief Technology Officer, Orange

State of Broadband 2021

The ideas and opinions expressed in this insight are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of ITU and UNESCO or the Broadband Commission. The mention of specific companies, products or services does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by ITU or UNESCO or Broadband Commission in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.

Innovative digital services are helping to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by providing access to health, education, and financial services[1]. However, 4 billion people, or half of the world’s population, still do not use the internet even though 3.4 billion between them – the usage gap – live in an area covered by a mobile broadband network[2]. If we don’t take action now, we run the risk of reinforcing existing inequalities in the digital world and further marginalizing vulnerable people in the post pandemic world. Our three recommendations are:
  1. We need to invest in digital skills as much as in network extension
  2. We need regulatory frameworks stimulating investment and reducing connection inequalities
  3. We need a multi-stakeholder approach to digital inclusion
  4. We need to invest in digital skills as much as in network extension.

While the coverage gap fell under 600 million people with the continued expansion of 3G+ networks, the usage gap, 3.4 billion people, remains a global challenge, with significant regional disparities. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted that digital skills are essential to access a large range of services, to keep learning at all ages and for employees across all economic sectors. Thus, it is important to tackle the digital skills gap, which remains high across all levels of skills and across all continents.[3]

Orange has been investing in digital skills in all its operating countries with a flagship initiative, Orange Digital Centers, which are free and innovative ecosystems dedicated to training people in digital technology, technology incubation, and start-up acceleration and financing. A partnership with the federally-owned enterprise GIZ, operating on behalf of the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), has accelerated the project’s deployment in the African and Middle Eastern region.[4]

We need regulatory frameworks stimulating investment and reducing connection inequalities.

To accelerate digital inclusion, we need stable and forward-looking public policy and regulatory frameworks, able to adapt to innovative and dynamic markets, promoting policy measures to support increased network investments, through new or already existing business models, such as co-investments, open architectures of networks, and infrastructure sharing models helping to expand fixed and mobile coverage. A stable, predictable and fair regulatory and fiscal environment encourages investment and thus, digital inclusion.

We need a multi-stakeholder approach to digital inclusion.

The infrastructure investments needed are colossal and are largely assumed by telecom operators[5].

Partnerships allow to pool funds and expertise: for example, through our partnership Orange AMN (Africa Mobile Networks) – which has received support from the European Investment Bank for rolling out mobile phone coverage in remote rural areas[6], more than 700 sites have been deployed in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[7] As a result, two million inhabitants, who previously had no connectivity, are now able to access digital mobile services (voice, data, and financial services)[8].

Multi-stakeholder partnerships such as the Broadband Commission involving private actors, state administrations and international organizations[9] are key to nurture innovative business models and advance digital inclusion.

[1] UN. “Connect 2030: How ICT supports the SDGs”. May 2020, https://news.un.org/fr/story/2020/05/1068992

[2] The State of mobile internet connectivity 2020 report,  GSMA | The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2020 – Mobile for Development

[3] ITU. “Digital skills insights, 2020, https://www.itu.int/fr/myitu/Publications/2020/12/02/14/26/DIgital-Skills-Insights-2020

[4] Cf. https://www.orange.com/en/orange-digital-center-committed-digital-equality and https://www.giz.de/de/downloads/giz2021_en_PPP_Orange_Digital%20Center_Factsheet.pdf

[5] According to the GSMA, operators will invest a cumulative CAPEX of $52 billion in sub-Saharan Africa, and $1100 in the world over the period 2019–2025 (GSMA, Mobile Economy, 2020). See IDATE DigiWorld, The challenges of the digital world, 2017.

[6] https://www.eib.org/en/press/all/2017-147-connecting-the-unconnected-in-rural-sub-saharan-africa-rollout-begins-of-1000-new-solar-powered-mobile-towers-to-unlock-online-access-for-millions

[7] Orange. 2021. Digital Africa. https://www.orange.com/sites/orangecom/files/2021-05/Orange_Digital_Africa_2021_EN.pdf.

[8] Figures as of end-February 2021.

[9] World Bank/Digital Development Partnership. “Innovative business models for expanding fiber-optic networks and closing the access gaps”. December 2018.