Last week, tens of thousands of participants and over 2,000 exhibitors gathered at the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona to launch and share the latest advances in mobile technology, wearables, virtual reality, gadgets, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), devices, 5G, and more.

Similar to last year, we decided to take a look at how announcements from MWC15 will impact the developing world.

1. Facebook and Google continue to spearhead ambitious initiatives to get more people across the world online.

As we shared last year, Facebook and Google continue to lead in efforts to get the next billion people around the world online.

In his keynote address, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg advocated for free basic internet services to propel mobile growth in emerging markets. Since launching at last year’s MWC, the initiative has now reached Colombia, India, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana.

Separately, Google has been experimenting with several initiatives in its connectivity strategy, including Project Loon or “floating cell towers” project, Google Fiber, and Project Titan – its drone extension of Project Loon.

Google Loon Project

Google Loon Project

Photo credit: SiliconKarne

2. Digital identity and privacy is becoming more significant for mobile consumers

When addressing the audience, GSMA Director General Anne Bouverot discussed the growing importance of digital identity.

“I think digital identity is the new frontier. This is an area where we think we need better services to access services: healthcare, payments, social networks, whatever we’re accessing on the Internet. We want to access them and prove who we are, but we don’t want to necessarily give our mobile numbers and be spammed after that. We haven’t completely found this balance yet, so stay tuned for deployment in mobile connectivity and digital identity in the year to come.” – Anne Bouverot

With mobile security concerns on the rise, this year’s Mobile World Congress also introduced smartphones with privacy in mind. For example, Brazilian phone maker Sikur introduced the GranitePhone which has encryption features designed to ease the privacy concerns of smartphone users.

Sikur GranitePhone

Sikur GranitePhone

Photo credit: Cnet

3. mHealth focus shifting to wearables
Wearable technology was a hot trend at MWC15, especially in the form of fitness trackers, smartwatches, and smartbands. For example, HTC made its big launch of the HTC Grip in partnership with Under Armour and featuring built-in GPS capabilities.

What’s ahead?

Though MWC15 covered many types of emerging technologies beyond mobile including 5G, connected devices, the internet of things, virtual reality, and other topics, the theme of the immense potential of the world’s connectivity resonated throughout the week.

According to Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia, who attend this year’s Mobile World Congress,

Technology is making real and useable internet access available to tens of millions across Africa today and if we think forward 20 years and even 10 years, we’re going to have massive connectivity to the real internet for hundreds of millions of people and this going to have an incredible impact on politics in these places, on society, on trade, and opportunities for all kinds of people.” – Jimmy Wales

What news on MWC15’s impact on developing countries did we miss? Let us know in the comments and/or tweet us @TechChange.

Interested in how MWC15 announcements are impacting Mobiles for International Development and mHealth? Register for these courses now!

Internet connectivity is increasingly being seen as a human right in our digital world. Today, most of us can’t imagine a world without the Internet, yet only 30% of the world has access to it. Meanwhile, over 85% of the world has cellular coverage and as mobile phones and smartphones become increasingly cheaper, more people are able to access the Internet.

Here are some global initiatives to make the Internet more affordable and accessible to the most remote areas of the world:

1. Facebook’s

At the end of August 2013, Mark Zuckerberg introduced, a collaborative effort of Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung to bring internet access to the two-thirds of the world that are still offline.

Recently, Facebook launched the app to Airtel customers in Zambia. The app provides access to 13 basic services without data charges; some of the free services include MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action), AccuWeather, and WRAPP (Women’s Rights App). Serving as a channel to women’s right resources, has received praise from Executive Director of UN Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as she said that, “This technology will empower countless women to make a positive impact on their societies and the world.” While the full benefit of is yet to unfold, it is definitely a step forward in allowing women access to much needed services.

2. Google’s Project Loon

Google’s Project Loon pilot project in New Zealand

Starting with a pilot project in New Zealand in June 2013, Project Loon is Google’s initiative to provide “balloon-powered internet for everyone.” Loon balloons float on the stratosphere and rise and descend with wind patterns to their desired direction of travel, while special antennas in people’s homes allow them to connect with the Loon network for online access. In 2014, Project Loon aims to continue their effort to make internet access possible for hard to reach areas by establishing a ring of connectivity of multiple loons around the 40th parallel.



From the makers of Ushahidi, Crowdmap, and the iHub in Kenya, comes BRCK, a $199 connectivity device designed for use in areas with minimal electricity and internet connections. Built to perform in off-the-grid areas, BRCK works with any 3G enabled SIM card in over 140 countries, has a virtual mobile network operator (vMNO) for connectivity without a SIM card, and also has an external GSM antenna port to support connectivity. Designed by the developing world, for the developing world, BRCK claims that “if it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.”

4. Oluvus


With a mission to “get the world online for free,” Kosta Grammatis is following the footsteps of Facebook and Google in the race to provide free internet connectivity.  Set to launch later this year, Oluvus plans to provide basic internet services for free in the U.S. and use the profit from additional services purchased by their customers to fund connectivity projects in the developing world. Oluvus’s first project is set to take place in the world largest refugee camp, Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya.


What’s next for internet expansion?

As tech giants Facebook and Google tackle the global lack of internet access, they are sure to be ahead of the game. While Facebook’s’s success is too early to tell, Google commemorated a successful 120-day afloat of one of their Loon balloons on 7th August proving they can withstand harsh weather conditions. Google and Facebook are also expanding their internet initiatives considering drones and satellites to deliver the Internet to more people.

Critics have questioned the end goal of the various internet initiatives that are emerging, labeling them as “gateway drugs” to their product among the unreached population. Despite the critique, the pursuit to provide internet access to the world combined with the power of internet connectivity to change people’s lives cannot be denied.

Challenges lie ahead for these internet initiatives as they deal with regulatory issues such as spectrum/net neutrality as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been criticized for trying to regulate. Google’s Loon project may face challenges controlling air traffic for its string of loon balloons and BRCK’s may not withstand all crises while claiming to be crisis-friendly. Those unable to afford computers, laptops, or tablets, are able to leapfrog technology to use mobile phones to access the Internet, making it increasingly empowering in the developing world. The future for internet initiatives looks bright as more businesses and organizations look to reach new customers online by providing internet access worldwide.

Where do you think these internet initiatives are heading? Tweet @techchange or comment below to share your thoughts.

For many people in the world, it is difficult to imagine what life was like without the World Wide Web. In the last quarter century, the Internet has fundamentally changed the way people across the world access, share, and use information. The Web is increasingly integrating into more and more aspects of our daily lives and work. For example, it has played an important role in empowering citizens with a digital platform for civic engagement, and spreading knowledge on disease prevention to boost global health.

Join us and USAID’s Global Development Lab in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, and the extraordinary opportunities it presents to helping people in the most remote places in the world. Check out this animation video the TechChange creative team produced in partnership with USAID featuring Rajiv Shah, Andy Sisson, Priya Jaisinghani, Sascha Meinrath, Dr. Ndemo, Judy Payne, Ann Mei Chang,and Adam Slote.

In the next several decades where we can expect the expansion of broadband connectivity, cheaper smartphones, the increase in data, and business models that serve more underserved populations, we are hopeful for a future where extreme poverty no longer exists.

If you’d like more information on TechChange’s animations and our creative team’s work, please email us at