The next billion geeks
How the mobile internet will transform the BRICI countries
Sep 2nd 2010 DADRI, UTTAR PRADESH
BUYING a mobile phone was the wisest $20 Ranvir Singh ever spent. Mr Singh, a farmer in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, used to make appointments in person, in advance, to deliver fresh buffalo milk to his 40-odd neighbours. Now his customers just call when they want some. Mr Singh’s income has risen by 25%, to 7,000 rupees ($149) a month. And he hears rumours of an even more bountiful technology. He has heard that “something on mobile phones” can tell him the current market price of his wheat. Mr Singh does not know that that “something” is the internet, because, like most Indians, he has never seen or used it. But the phone in his calloused hand hints at how hundreds of millions of people in emerging markets—perhaps even billions—will one day log on.
Read more at The Economist…
Chapter 8, In Castells, Manuel, Mireia Fernandez-Ardevol, Jack Linchuan Qiu and Araba Sey (2007) Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.
Issues at stake
- Leapfrogging development?
- Efffects of mobiles on development
- Mobile digital divide (incl. rural-urban divide within poor countries)
- Mobility vs connectivity (in poor countries people get mobile to be connected, not because it’s mobile)
- Cost vs benefit (this question not clear in many cases; regulation is needed)
- Social vs business uses (in Africa, most people use mobiles socially more than biz; empirically very hard to separate them, Donner 2004)
Alternative uses and alternative modes of access
- Prepaid systems (key to making mobiles accessible to poor)
- Scaled-down products and services (helps people with low education)
- Wi-fi for internet access
- Shared access and maintenance
- Resource redistribution: beeps and remittances (with beeps, richer can subsidise poorer users)
Case studies in Asia, Africa and Latin America
- Success of Little Smart (Xiaolingtong) in China: big hit since 2002; for low-income with low mobility; uniquely Chinese; huge low-income market; life in China is highly localised; this system allows ‘localised mobility’; unusual rural-to-urban tech diffusion
- Wireless Local Loop (WLL) for India’s poor: hampered by economic barriers; unlike China no citywide scope; intense competition; slowed-down investment
- Modified Grameen model in Uganda: two programmes – MTN VillagePhone and ‘community phone’; both highly successful according to media reports
- Mobile payphone franchises in S. Africa: excellent performance
- Grassroots mobile payphone initiatives in Ghana: may prove unsustainable, remains to be seen
- Africa in general: adapted models, e.g. Grameen project in Uganda not targetting women; S. African system harder for poor entrepreneurs than in Uganda where micro-finance institutions supporting it.
- Family life and mobiles in Chile: among poor families, mobiles are important tool of family (not so much individual) connectivity rather than mobility; they use mobile as non-mobile device as they have no landline; handset used collectively
- Wi-Fi Internet for Development in Latin America: can deliver high bandwidth at low cost, but limited by short signal range. Peru case study: 14 interconnected telecentres, organised via existing cooperative, creating spillovers across region; but hard to replicate and much regulatory change needed in Latin America; often top-down and excluding community orgs and small entrepreneurs.
Huge connectivity gap across global South, despite magic bullet hype of mobiles. Still a lot of investment in infrastructure, adequate regulation, etc, required if people are to gain their connectivity rights. Meanwhile chapter has shown all manner of inventive ways in which people and orgs in these regions have sought to improve the situation, but a lot remains to be done.
Posted in Africa, China, connectivity, income, Latin America, mobile phone, mobility, mobliv, poverty
Tagged Africa, Asia, connectivity, development, global South, ICT4D, infrastructure, Latin America, mobiles for development, mobility, regulation