Last Mile initiative Mongolia – Connecting Rural Communities

Mongolian herder using an LMI/Mongolia In December 2005, USAID dispatched a Last Mile Initiative (LMI) team to test a Voice over Wireless Fidelity (VoWiFi) phone network in rural Mongolia. The pilot project focuses activities at the small village level with average populations around 2,000 persons. This article discusses initial plans for deploying innovative technologies and leveraging existing and upcoming private sector investments.

Each village or soum in Mongolian is usually surrounded by baghs. A bagh is a remote ‘homestead’ usually defined by its portable Ger (traditional felt and wood home). Some soum and bagh communities are semi-nomadic and require a portable telecom solution.

Innovative Technologies - VoWiFi
The pilot project follows Darrell Owen’s April 2005 LMI assessment of Mongolia. In his initial assessment, Owen suggested a WiFi-based pilot project as the best means of connecting rural Mongolia in an effective and affordable way. Owen suggested a wireless technology based on Voice over WiFi (VoWiFi). This new technology is a mobile phone version of a PC-based version called VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). VoIP is making headlines across the world with companies like Vonage and Skype leading a revolution in the telecom industry by offering voice communications via wireless-Internet as opposed to traditional copper wire or digital mobile networks. In fact, the WiFi phone inter-operates with those networks as well.

Testing a Wireless Metropolitan Area Network
For the December trip, Darrell Owen was joined by David Lyman, a telecom network engineer, and Steve Rynecki, dot-ORG project manager. Lyman set up a test network designed to expand soum coverage via a wireless metropolitan area network (W-MAN) reaching beyond the soums via point-to-point wireless solutions (20-30km), and even into the nomadic herder community (beyond 30km) via a High Frequency (HF)-to-phone solution. The test was conducted successfully and demonstrates the viability of leveraging LMI/Mongolia project funding by partnering with local private firms who have already, and are continuing to make their own investments. Rynecki focused on developing a sustainable business model, creating partnerships with local private sector partners, and ensuring linkages with key sectors, such as tourism.

Working with Local Private Sector Partners and Filling a Real Need in Rural Mongolia
A key private sector partner for LMI/Mongolia is Khan Bank, Mongolia’s largest private bank. Khan Bank and local telecom provider Incomnet started a nationwide upgrade to deliver Internet and telecommunications access at the soum level. LMI/Mongolia will work with Khan Bank and Incomnet to build the rural phone networks. LMI/Mongolia is also discussing similar arrangements with wireless provider Terravox.

There is very little in the way of voice communication in rural Mongolia and roughly 60% of all telephone calls are between local parties. VoWiFi-phones and related networks are an innovative way to connect rural residents.

Activities and Services to Complement Existing Initiatives
The pilot will demonstrate the usefulness and affordability of a wireless rural phone network. Future appplications for a sustainable network include the following services:

  • Emergency communications
  • Distance learning
  • Telemedicine (human & veterinary)
  • Tourism communications
  • Early Warning Network for drought and fire hazards

    In providing rural telecom access, the project looks to strengthen several initiatives of USAID/Mongolia; particularly the Chemonics ‘Economic Policy Reform and Competitiveness Project'. This project helps tour operators in arranging tours in rural Ger camps.

    LMI/Mongolia is actively supporting telecom policy/regulatory reform efforts undertaken by Mongolia's ICT agency, the World Bank and others. For example, the LMI/Mongolia pilot will complement planned pilot activities funded by the World Bank in support of the Mongolian government's Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) initiative. With USAID's Asia Near East Bureau providing key support, the pilot’s next steps include the selection of roughly 4-6 pilot locations and the rapid deployment of the rural phone network to link these otherwise neglected communities.

For More Information, Contact:
Steven Rynecki
Senior Program Officer, Academy for Educational Development
Tel: 202-884-8948

Related DOT-COM Activity
Mongolia Last Mile Initiative
Related DOT-COMments Newsletter Articles
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Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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