Mobile phones and development in Latin America

Presentation given by Mireia Fernandez Ardevol to the ICT4D Postgraduate Network, UPC Barcelona, 9 September 2010.

Summary by Ismael Peña-López:

Project to analyze mobile telephone usage in Latin America. Diffussion or mobile penetration, though not as high as higher-income countries, it does have a certain level of penetration that sometimes almost reaches 100% (higher-income countries reach up to 120%). Penetration is though unevenly distributed.

Research question: does mobile communication affects (impacts on) socio-economic development in Latin America? That was a new question in the region of Latin America, and it was relevant and ambitious, and wide, as a whole research network of several people and institutions worked together to answer the research question.

The levels of analysis: macro (economics, econometrics, context), meso-organizational (institutions, markets) and micro. It was very important too to maintain a multidisciplinary focus to gather all the shades of meaning of such a complex topic.

continued here…


4 responses to “Mobile phones and development in Latin America

  1. I attended this excellent presentation and found it very inspiring, as I´m sure did the ICT4D postgraduate students from many parts of the world who made up most of the audience. Incidentally, there´s a book coming out shortly (in Spanish) based on this pioneering work by a team of researchers from Spain, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Brazil. I found the following points of particular interest:

    * The finding in many developing countries that a lot of mobile users don´t seem to use their mobiles to improve their livelihoods has puzzled researchers for some time now. Fernandez-Ardevol suggests that they´ve been asking the wrong question. Instead of ´Who are you talking to?´ they should have asked ´What did you talk about?´. Because kinship and livelihoods are so interwoven in most of these places, you could well be talking to your cousin about business.

    * In the Q&A, the presenter made the intriguing point that the mobile is a general purpose technology, like electricity. Survey respondents may say they don´t do much with their mobiles, but you only realise their importance when you are deprived of them, e.g. through lack of coverage, just as you only realise how crucial electricity is when you lose it. So we need to ask about the opportunity costs of being without this technology.

    * The process of naturalising mobiles is gradual. Elderly people typically start with mobiles ´just in case´something happens, and gradually they come to use them in different ways and end up taking them for granted.

  2. Kárita Francisco

    Hi prof. Postill, could you tell me the name of this book that is about to be published?

    Thank you

  3. Hi Kárita, I don´t know, I´ll try to find out and post the title here

  4. Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol

    @John Postill: thanks for your nice post.

    @ Kárita Francisco: thank you for your interest. The book will be released in few months, so I will be happy to give you updated information through this channel.

    In the meanwhile, this paper would be of interest as is based in the same data gathered in Peru:
    Barrantes (2009): Mobile phones as a tool in the household production process Evidence from Puno, Peru ( )

    And here, two other resources that come to mind:

    Diffusion of mobile telephony
    ITU ICT Eye (
    Yearly updated information on penetration at a country level.
    Here you can check which countries have a penetration over 100%, or verify that world mobile penetration at the end of 2009 was 68% (that is, there were 68 active mobile subscription per 100 inhabitant).

    DIRSI (
    Among its publications (, I would highlight three recent works:
    Galperin (2010): Tariffs and affordability gap of mobile telephony services in Latin America and the Caribbean (
    Katz (2010): Measuring ICTs economic impact (,
    Mariscal (2009): Mobiles for Development: M-Banking (,

    By the way, some of the researchers belonging to this network are in the “Development Mobile Phone Studies 2000/2010” list.

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