Ericsson Malaysia’s Mobile Innovation Village model has passed a test of its feasibility and impact, which was carried out by researchers at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS). The study found that mobile technology boosted well-being and empowerment among people living in a rural Malaysian community.

Mobile phone

Mobile technology can improve education and healthcare in remote communities ©Laihiu

We live in an increasingly digitised world, where mobile technology becomes more widespread and sophisticated year upon year. Many people insist they ‘could not live without’ their computers, mobile phones or the internet and it is estimated that the total number of mobile devices will skyrocket to 10 billion over the next few years, thus outnumbering humans.

Nevertheless, a vast number of people remain impoverished, isolated and left behind from the trend towards the reliance on all things high-tech. It’s easy to rave about the potential benefits of mobile technology as the ultimate solution to geographical isolation, but getting things up and running is far from simple. Close-knit rural communities may not necessarily welcome drastic changes to their way of life, so schemes which aim to enrich lives by bridging the digital divide must be carefully introduced and monitored.

Ericsson Malaysia has been trialling a scheme known as the Mobile Innovation Village (MIV) model among the Bidayuh agricultural community in Kampung Serasot in Sarawak, Malaysia. This community had very limited experience of mobile technology, with less than 10 per cent of participants ever having used the internet before.

The scheme provided 90 households with freely available, easily accessible broadband, computing, communications, learning and healthcare services, aided by government-funded resources such as a Community Broadband Centre. The scheme’s impact was assessed by the Institute of Social Informatics and Technological Innovations (ISITI), UNIMAS.

Alvin Yeo from UNIMAS told ResearchSEA: “We employed a quantitative and qualitative approach to allow us to have as comprehensive a perspective as possible…our multi-method survey included structured questionnaires, interviews and focus group meetings.”

The MIV model certainly passed the test. One of the biggest successes was healthcare monitoring. Patients were shown how to measure their own blood pressure, which was then reviewed remotely by doctors at the UNIMAS Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. This was shown to have huge health benefits, and there was widespread enthusiasm among residents, with some returning to the monitoring center even after the study had finished.

Alvin said that a crucial part of the project was building a rapport with local community leaders.

“The MIV components can add value to community broadband centres,” he said, “but a cohesive community with strong leadership and passionate local champions was a key success factor.”

Another successful element of the model was the implementation of e-learning using online content and teaching aids. Steven Tai from Ericsson Malaysia said that e-learning was well received by the children of Kampung Serasot as they enjoyed learning more with the help of interactive online content.

According to Steven, the next step is to share these insights with partners and government agencies and help to set up similar projects elsewhere. “Affordability is a key factor,” he told ResearchSEA, “the telecommunications industry is adopting more cost effective business models and technologies to make broadband services more affordable and sustainable.”