IEEE Announces First Winners of Connecting the Unconnected Challenge, a New Competition Providing Solutions for the Digital Divide

Competition seeks novel solutions for affordable internet access, since nearly half of the world’s population is currently unconnected

PISCATAWAY, N.J.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–#HighspeedinternetIEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for humanity, announced the innovators and strategists who took the top prizes of the first IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Challenge. The winning teams were announced and select teams presented their solutions at the inaugural IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Summit, a virtual event that will be accessible online through 31 December.

The Challenge called for applications in two tracks: a ‘Proof-of-Concept’ track for those who had a demonstrated pilot, and a ‘Concept Only’ track for those with undemonstrated ideas. Within those tracks, competitors could submit into three sub-categories of solutions that uniquely address the digital divide: technical innovations to provide connectivity to unconnected populations, business models that make connectivity affordable in unconnected communities, or innovative community enablement programs that increase adoption and use of the internet among populations that previously did not use it.

Winners were selected from more than 250 entries from 69 nations, and $60,000 in cash prizes were awarded. The top winning teams are:

  • Best overall Proof-of-Concept, award sponsored by Facebook Connectivity: Eric Nitschke, located in Prague, Czech Republic, with the ‘nimble,’ an open source, portable, and offline-first wireless mesh network for and by underserved communities. The nimble is currently being deployed in South Africa, Canada, and Czech Republic with upcoming deployments in Mexico, Kenya, India, and the USA.
  • Best Overall Concept, award sponsored by Microsoft: Rahma Utami and Muhammad Noor of Jakarta, Indonesia, with Ba11y, a crowdsourcing accessibility reporting platform for systematic reporting of websites or apps inaccessible to people with disabilities. Implementation is planned in Indonesia where the website and apps will be used nation-wide. Prior to product launch, the solution will be tested with visually-impaired respondents who live in Java and Bali.

In the sub-categories, winners include:

  • 1st Place, Technical Proof-of-Concept, award sponsored by Intelsat: Sarat Pradhan, Niladri Pradhan, and Soumyaprakash Das, of Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India, with InterGram, advanced digital development centers for delivering essential community services over high-speed broadband. The solution has been deployed in the rural village of Balipadia in the state of Odisha. New deployments are planned for two other rural areas within Odisha.
  • 1st Place, Community Enablement Proof-of-Concept: David Johnson and Melissa Densmore of Cape Town, South Africa, with iNethi, an open-source content sharing and services platform for community wireless networks. There are currently three iNethi deployments in Cape Town. There will be another new Cape Town deployment in 2022 as well as a confirmed deployment to take place in Karnataka, India.
  • 1st Place, Business Model Proof-of-Concept: Ignacio Prieto-Egido of Madrid, Spain, and Cesar Cordova Bernuy, Leopoldo Liñan Benitez, and Juan Antonio Paco Fernandez of Lima, Peru, with their pilot of platforms to increase sustainability and impact of communications services in Peru. The solution is being deployed in the Napo and Santiago River regions of Peru and can be replicated in other Latin American countries.

A group of over 20 judges from across the globe with expertise in the technology and business of providing connectivity led the selection committee, reviewing and scoring all submissions. Learn more about the winning submissions at

“Nearly 50% of the world’s population are not yet connected to the Internet. The Digital Divide is closing too slowly and it is unevenly impactful on women and people living below the poverty line, whether in remote or urban areas,” said Sudhir Dixit, co-chair, IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Challenge and Summit and co-founder of the Basic Internet Foundation. “IEEE wanted to do more to help close this gap.”

“Bringing together those from around the globe with the insight and expertise on technologies, business models, and community enablement will help move us closer to pervasive global internet connectivity and its life-changing benefits of connectivity for health, education, and economic opportunity,” said Ashutosh Dutta, co-chair for IEEE Future Networks and chief 5G strategist at Johns Hopkins University.

The IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Challenge and Summit are organized by IEEE Future Networks, which is engaging professionals worldwide from industry, government, and academia to work together to solve the challenges associated with 5G and beyond systems. IEEE Future Networks includes contributions across many IEEE societies and has several working groups for which it seeks volunteers from both industry and academia to participate. Learn more about the winning submissions at and or connect via these social media channels:

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Renee Ayer, Interprose

+1 630-587-6453, [email protected]

Brad Kloza, Program Director – IEEE Future Directions

+1 732-465-5390, [email protected]

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