Q&A with the Winners: Ben Mansell

In this Q&A, Ben Mansell talks about his team’s solution — Swarm Network for Education and Learning in Papua New Guinea (SNEL PNG) — which won the 2nd Place, Business Models Concept prize in the 2022 Connecting the Unconnected Challenge.

1.Please summarize your winning solution

Image courtesy of Ben Mansell

Papua New Guinea is one of the least connected countries on the planet with 84% of the population living in rural areas with little or no access to economic or social services. In Papua New Guinea only 12% of the population uses the internet, this is not due to lack of coverage, there is now adequate satellite coverage in rural areas and WIFI hotspots in the urban areas, the issue is affordability.

In low-income communities installing and maintaining an internet connection is comparatively expensive and as a result these people remain educationally, economically, and socially disadvantaged. Since its independence from Australia in 1975 many of the rural areas remain cut off with little or no infrastructure, even roads and remain very isolated with children learning little of life outside their village. These children are unable to supplement their learning with online learning tools which, most of the developed world takes for granted or keep informed on national and international current affairs. Our solution to this problem was to introduce what we called a swarm network for education and learning in PNG. Using existing urban infrastructure to extend and introduce WIFI hotspots at affordable but profitable rates, we intend to use these profits to install and sustain rural infrastructure until such time that these local communities can do so at their own cost.

Image courtesy of Ben Mansell

2.What is the most unique/innovative aspect about your approach?

The most innovative aspect of this approach is not technical but commercial. Using a combination of urban for profit to subsidize the rural non-profit – until such time that the non-profit areas are self-sustaining. As we are able to increase the number of these areas, we are positive that we can then exponentially fund a growing number of new sites and the number of school children and adults who will be able to access the internet.

3. What did you enjoy most about the CTU Competition and Summit Program?

Being part of the IEEE CTU program enabled us to evaluate and document our plan in detail including the cost implications. This has proved invaluable in approaching other organizations for support and promoting this program for additional donations. Papua New Guinea is without doubt a region that requires significant investment to stabilize and increase its GDP. For such a beautiful and environmentally diverse area having connected communities throughout the country will ultimately deliver incredible developments.

4. What are your plans for executing your concept?

Image courtesy of Ben Mansell

Our prize has enabled us to start outreach for further donations to support the full rollout of phase 1. With connectivity there is a continual open cost and a single donation will always only be time limited. Our solution addresses that issue proving a long-term sustainable solution.

5. Have you estimated how many people would be impacted if your solution was implemented?

With a population of 10 million and 78% unconnected there is ultimately a huge number that will be impacted. Initially we are talking about a few thousand but as we scale the solution the numbers impacted will increase exponentially.

6. Anything else you would like to share

We would like to thank IEEE for the chance to participate in this program. It has given us an opportunity to fully evaluate our proposal and look at the financial validity. Once we find a sponsor and kick this off it will be due to the IEEE process.