Q&A with the Winners: Ignacio Prieto-Egido

In this Q&A, Ignacio Prieto-Egido talks about his team’s solution — Platforms to Increase Sustainability and Impact of Communications Services — which won the 1st Place, Business Models Proof of Concept prize in the 2021 Connecting the Unconnected Challenge.

1.Please summarize your winning solution

Image courtesy of Ignacio Prieto-Egido

Many rural communities in developing countries do not have access to communications services. This connectivity gap is mainly caused by the urban-oriented business models of traditional operators, which are not cost-effective in regions that are characterized by isolation, low population density, and scarcity of resources. We propose a feasible and sustainable strategy to deploy mobile communications (voice and data) and public services (eHealth and tele-education) in isolated communities by combining appropriate low-cost wireless technologies and an innovative business model. This innovative model is based on alliances with strategic stakeholders to combine public and private resources efficiently and is oriented to impact the population’s living conditions directly. The concrete stakeholders depend on the context and will usually be public institutions, universities, Non-Government Organizations, and cellular operators. Public institutions will provide the long-term infrastructure (the towers), while Telecommunication operators will install and manage the network and the mobile service (the clients). In this way, deployment costs are reduced to make the service economically feasible. For their part, NGOs and universities ensure that telecommunications services are used by the health system (eHealth) and by the educational system (tele-education).

This idea has been tested in the Napo project deployed in the Peruvian Amazon. The consortium comprised the Government of the Loreto Region, Telefónica del Perú, Mayu (a small rural operator), the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP), and two NGOs: EHAS and Pango.

Image courtesy of Ignacio Prieto-Egido

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

Our solution integrates diverse actors (public, private, NGOs) while seeking to extend connectivity and leverage it to improve public services such as health or education. From this point of view, it is a cross-cutting solution that also involves the participation of communities.

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

Sharing experiences with other organizations and learning from other groups’ work was exciting. Some of them are complementary to our proposal and may lead to collaborations in the future.

4. What new work have you done since the 2021 CTU Summit? Did you invest your winnings into the project?

We are now replicating the idea in another river in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, the Santiago River. There we are also collaborating with a broad consortium of public and private institutions to extend mobile telecommunications services. We will also use connectivity to strengthen primary health care and the public education system.

Image courtesy of Ignacio Prieto-Egido

We have used the prize funds for these projects, although the funding needed is much larger, and we have sought other national and international funding sources.

5. What is your estimate of the number of people impacted by your program?

5000 people in the Santiago River basin and 9000 people in the Napo River basin.

6. Anything else you would like to share

We want to thank the IEEE CTU organization again for their fantastic initiative. We would also like to thank all project partners and the major donor institutions: The Community of Madrid, the Latin American Development Bank, and the Spanish Development Agency (AECID).