MTN’s multi-pronged approach to accelerate digital inclusion

09 June 2022

People who are connected are ultimately empowered. It follows that the digital inclusion of traditionally marginalised groups – those in rural areas, as well as the elderly, women and the youth – is a key to broader socioeconomic development.

Driven to deliver on our strategic intent – Ambition 2025: Leading digital solutions for Africa’s progress – MTN has a clear plan to ensure that everyone in our markets can enjoy the benefits of a modern connected life. We call this ‘CHASE’. Rolling out broadband coverage – the ‘c’ in CHASE – is the first step.

“Providing a quality broadband network is essential, but not enough: there are various other interventions required to make sure that no-one is left behind,” says MTN Group Consumer Executive Enzo Scarcella. “People also need 3G-enabled handsets; affordable data; relevant service offerings; as well as education to equip them with the skills to make the most of all that the mobile internet has to offer.”

When all these elements are in place, adoption increases sharply – a fact corroborated by the findings of a study in Zambia, where MTN’s partner AMN is helping us extend broadband connectivity to more people in rural areas. The research looked at the impact of various interventions in six ‘ultra-rural’ villages compared to a control group of another six villages, all with 3G networks.

It found that by implementing the interventions – which are aligned to each of the elements of MTN’s CHASE framework – more new users were brought on to the internet and their data usage increased significantly, to three times the amount recorded in the control villages.

Studies such as these encourage us to keep pursuing our CHASE framework,” says Scarcella, adding that the Group was building on the good progress made in 2021, the details of which include:

Coverage: To ensure sufficient coverage in rural areas, in 2021 we increased the number of rollout partners and introduced new partnership models, rolling out 912 rural sites. This expanded coverage to more than 23 million people in rural areas, up from 8.5 million in 2020. By the end of 2021, MTN’s total broadband coverage was 83% of the population. Through MTN Global Connect, we continued to build the infrastructure to connect African countries to each other and the rest of the world. We rolled out more than 15 000km of terrestrial fibre, bringing our total footprint to  100 000km.

Handsets:  To increase the affordability of and customer access to data-enabled devices, in 2021 we placed 3.1 million 3G and 4G devices in the hands of our customers. We increased the number of vendors from whom we procure handsets and with whom we have agreements, ensuring that customers can access after-sales service. We also offered an MTN-approved device that is 20% cheaper than a comparable handset. By partnering with M-KOPA, we supported device financing to customers in Uganda and Ghana. In 2022, we are extending this to Nigeria and Zambia.

Affordability: To increase data service affordability, in 2021 we reduced our effective data tariff by 15.3%. To test affordability in line with United Nations and ECOWAS guidelines, we benchmarked MTN data pricing across operations. We found that 11 MTN markets have data prices that are within the UN’s recommended affordability range.

Service bundling: To create service offerings that are relevant, simple and meaningful to customers, in 2021 we provided different customer groups with different propositions, tailoring our offerings to include microbundles, social media bundles and XtraByte – a service that allows customers to borrow data when they run out. We also introduced YouTube streaming bundles for entry-level users.

Education and ease of access: To enhance digital literacy and the ease with which data can be accessed, in 2021 we trained 24 million people in the 12 markets in which we offer our ‘MTN Data-Smart’ digital literacy programme. This zero-rated programme improves people’s basic understanding of the mobile internet and applications.

CHASE clearly defines the work that we need to do, and helps keep everyone at MTN focused,” says Scarcella, adding that extending digital and financial inclusion across the African continent also supports the group’s strategic priority to create shared value. “No one must get left behind, regardless of their location, age or socio-economic standing.”