Call for Applications: IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Challenge

Call for Applications: IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Challenge

Applications are now open for the IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Challenge, a new global IEEE competition that solicits solutions from start-ups, grassroots organizations, universities, or anyone else that is working to bridge this digital divide in innovative ways.

Organized by the IEEE Future Networks Initiative and other partners, the competition is looking for applications from early-stage projects that offer unique ways to increase broadband access and usage for unconnected or under-connected populations/geographies.

The IEEE Future Networks Technical Community (FNTC) has endeavored to support a competition to identify and award innovative ideas and early-stage projects which have potential to connect the unconnected. By recognizing innovative individuals or organizations, IEEE can raise awareness of the digital divide and encourage new entrepreneurial efforts to provide internet access to unconnected populations.

2023 Theme: Gender Inclusion

In 2023 IEEE is partnering with USAID to bring more focus to the persistent gender-based inequalities in how women access, integrate with, and are empowered by digital technology. As countries continue to digitize, the ongoing exclusion of women from online spaces will widen economic and gender inequality, which will limit inclusive sustainable development.

For women who have managed to secure access to digital technology, a new set of challenges and harms await them online.

The 2023 CTU Challenge will add a new prize for Best Overall Gender Inclusion Proof-of-Concept. This award will go to the Proof-of-Concept track contestant in any category (TA, BM, or CE) whose project or solution makes a significant impact or effort in closing the gender digital divide. Applicants will have an opportunity during Phases 2 and 3 of the competition to demonstrate how they have focused on gender inclusion within various KPIs, and generally.

New in 2023: Focus on Canada

In partnership with VMware and Mitacs, the 2023 CTU Challenge will add a new prize for Best Overall from Canada. In 2021, VMware, Mitacs and IEEE Future Networks partnered on Digital Equity Grid Innovation initiative in Montreal, also known as TETRA, which aims to advance applied research on sustainable grids, clean tech, and digital equity.

This new prize seeks to entice innovators across Canada to bring their innovative projects and ideas to the forefront. Proof of Concept and Concept Only applicants from Canada are eligible.


  • The 2023 competition has two main tracks:
    Concept-Only track: These are individuals or groups who have novel ideas that only exist “on paper” with simulation or analytical results, demonstrating potential towards the CTU vision of affordably connecting unconnected populations. Prizes in this track will be lower than the POC track.

  • Proof-of-Concept track: This category is
    intended for individuals or groups who have already demonstrated their innovation with a basic proof-of-concept implementation or a pilot program and can show preliminary results, or successful field deployment(s). The submission in this category should include a description of the general design and proposed functionality including implementation of specific features that are novel/innovative. In addition to implementation, it can include a (small-scale) deployment/exercise to verify the idea's potential and/or to illustrate its feasibility. It should be noted that the competition is not looking for well-established programs with a large user base or extremely advanced initiatives.


    IEEE recognizes that the Digital Divide is not merely a technical problem. For this reason, the Connecting the Unconnected Challenge will reward submissions across three different categories:

  • Technology Applications (TA) – innovative use of technology to increase Internet access or otherwise enable connectivity.

  • Business Models (BM) – innovative approaches to a business model that result in increased affordability for Internet access.

  • Community Enablement (CE) – innovative programs that increase the likelihood that populations choose to start using the Internet where previously they did not. (In this category, supply and affordability may not be a problem, but people still don’t use the internet.)

    Prize Details

    Cash prizes will be distributed to winners in the different tracks, with no individual award exceeding $10,000. Proof-of-Concept prizes are typically higher than Concept-Only prizes.

    Additionally, this program will provide awardees with opportunities for significant exposure from IEEE, and winning contestants will be invited to participate in a mentorship program, and may be invited present their solutions at the annual IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Summit, an event that will also include keynote talks, panels and other presentations from leaders in industry, governments, and NGOs.

    Eligibility Criteria

  • The competition is open to private sector companies or startups, nonprofits and grassroots groups, university projects, students, government organizations, any other organization or individual participants from anywhere in the world. Individual participants must be at least 18 years old.

  • Participants who represent underserved communities from low and middle income countries and/or the Global South are highly encouraged to apply.

    How to Apply

    For more information and job application details, see; Call for Applications: IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Challenge

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