Alternative forms of power supply for mobile phones and other mobile devices can prove a lucrative revenue stream for mobile carriers worldwide, according to the GSM Association (GSMA).
In a statement Tuesday, the industry group said it ran a study that determined off-grid charging alternatives and services, which include solar phones and external solar chargers, can provide mobile operators additional revenue to the tune of US$2.3 billion.
These products can also benefit nearly 500 million mobile users, particularly mobile communities in emerging markets, the GSMA said. According to its study, some 485 million mobile users across the globe have no access to the electricity grid, a factor which severely limits usage opportunities.
The GSMA identified a range of available charging choices that, if implemented effectively, can extend a carrier's service availability and boost average revenue per user by 10 percent to14 percent.
"We are extremely excited that operators are able to provide people in off-grid areas with solutions to power mobile phones, as this will not only improve quality of life and access to information but can also act as a unique and significant opportunity to fuel economic growth," David Taverner, program manager at the GSMA, said in the report.
Revenue figures used to calculate the market size of off-grid charging solutions were "on the conservative side", Taverner said, so the potential financial gains for mobile operators could be greater than the estimated US$2.3 billion.
He added that this preliminary market overview marks "the start of what the GSMA believes will be an important area of industry growth in the coming years".
According to the mobile trade group, there is significant interest in off grid solutions, where about 60 percent of mobile operators interviewed for the study already have or are exploring off-grid charging initiatives. However, it noted that there is currently only limited understanding about the full scope of options and the associated social and business benefits.
The study was conducted over three months, the GSMA said, and included desk research to identify emerging vendors and their products, as well as interviews and surveys of mobile operators and vendors covering 50 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In a separate report, research firm Juniper Research said mobile networks are increasingly being deployed in rural areas of emerging markets, where consumer access to the electricity grid is at best limited and unreliable, and in many cases non-existent.
"Usage will in large be dependent on consumers being able to charge the handset through alternative methods, and solar-powered chargers in particular could become a key means of facilitating reliable access to mobile services in these markets," said Windsor Holden, principal analyst at Juniper Research.
Joel D. Pinaroc is a Filipino freelance IT writer currently based in Saudi Arabia.