MOBILE AND EMERGING WORLD
A while ago, I wrote a book calling mobile the 7th mass media channel
following the first six mass media: print, recordings, cinema, radio, television and the internet. In my travels, I heard from colleagues in the Emerging World that mobile was not the seventh or often in the less affluent countries, not even the first mass medium - it is often the only mass media channel, as well as the only communication tool and now starting also to be the way to provide banking services to the unbanked.
Lets look at some of those on a quick tour of mobile in the Emerging World. A publication called ICT Works
quoted two separate experts on Uganda and its infrastructure, Dara Karr and Jonathan Gossier, who both agreed that in Uganda there are more mobile phones than light bulbs
. Light bulbs!
Think about your home. If a family of four lives in a three-bedroom apartment - parents in their bedroom, both of the kids have their own bedroom - and then there is a living room, kitchen, toilet - we have at least six 'rooms' each with at least one light fixture and perhaps the ceiling lamp in the living room light has three lightbulbs. Without any other lamps - table lamps, reading lamps, floor lamps, mood lighting etc - we already have nine light bulbs in this one relatively average sized family home in an apartment building. If it was a house, it would most likely have several more rooms or similar areas - with lights.
Yet in Uganda where so many live on wages of one dollar per day, a typical home is often a small shack with one room - and if they are lucky to have electricity - then such a small dwelling is likely to have only one light bulb hanging from the ceiling for light. It helps put this issue in context. And even in Uganda today, there are more mobile phones than lightbulbs.
We've heard recently many studies saying there are more people with mobile phones on the planet than who have access to running water or who use a toothbrush etc. But yes, let's look at what mobile means in the Emerging World. In Bangladesh the BBC offers a basic course in language skills to learn rudimentary spoken English - so that low-income workers like maids and gardeners and cooks can converse with an employer who speaks English.
If someone in Bangladesh can get the same kind of job with an expat employer who is a foreigner and the employee can speak basic English, the salary is typically 20 times bigger! Imagine getting a salary increase of not 20% more or 50% more - not even doubling or tripling your salary - but a giant jump of 20x more! So like in the USA today the average income is I believe around 50,000 dollars per year. If you get a 20x improvement in your income from that level - you earn a flat 1 million dollars per year and jump into that 1% that the Occupy Wall Street gang
is now protesting against...
Twenty times bigger wages! Wow. You would honestly feel like a millionaire if that happened. Like you won the lottery. And that is what awaits basic workers if they can handle basic English just enough to understand what needs to be done today, the laundry, what time is dinner, etc. So yes, the BBC is offering language courses on mobile phones
, that cost less per lesson than a cup of tea in Bangladesh. The course runs 78 lessons in total, all delivered via the mobile phone. How many have signed up? 400,000! This is the power of mobile.
, a medical clinic wanted to bring women in for some treatments that have to be done at the one hospital suited for it in the capital, Dar Es Salaam. But Tanzania is a giant country and the one-day bus ride from the countryside to the city costs easily 60 US dollars - i.e. two months of total salary in the country where the average wage is two dollars per day. The doctors cannot send cash - it would be stolen by the husbands or other relatives. The doctors cannot send a bus ticket - which would be also stolen and sold in the black market. Most do not have bank accounts. But they have mobile phones. So the clinic sends a one-way personalized bus ticket to the phone of the lady needing the treatment. She receives her return ticket when the treatment is finished at the hospital. An excellent way to remove the crimes related to cash and bus ticket fraud not to mention ensuring that poor women can be brought to the treatment they need.
Moving to Philippines - for 20 dollars without contract you get a new phone that does the basics - it does voice calls, SMS text messages, plus has a torch/light and includes FM radio. No camera, this is the ultra-basics. But all that for twenty dollars, brand new phone on Globe's network.
SMS is being used for all kinds of innovative digital services in the Emerging World countries doing anything from handling ice cream merchant payments on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, to enabling farmers in India turn on their irrigation systems. In Kenya, Standard Chartered bank, Airtel and MasterCard now offer one-time use virtual MasterCards for anyone who wants to make a MasterCard payment - the sixteen digit MasterCard number and its related security codes etc are sent... yes, via SMS of course.
While we are on the topic of money, Kenya is now at the point where 30% of the total national economy passes mobile phones - all carriers/operators there offer SMS based basic mobile payments and mobile banking services which are acceptable payment for essentially anything and everywhere within the country.
And for those who are illiterate, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale of Lausanne, Switzerland http://www.epfl.ch/ has developed an icons based SMS generator into its service called EasySMS - if you need to write text messages, you can easily create them from easy-to-understand icons and the service will compose your message for you. And if you receive a message, EasySMS will of course speak out the words of the message you received.
Then there is news and entertainment. In China four out of ten who buy newspapers, have signed up to the premium mobile news headline services that come via MMS or SMS, giving this afternoon the headlines of what is in the newspapers tomorrow. These are branded news services by the major newspapers and are paid services.
In India, in towns that do not have television or radio coverage, there often still is cellular mobile coverage. So voice-based news and entertainment services are delivered via voice, as a kind of 'mobile phone radio' services - ranging from cricket scores to Bollywood music hits to all sorts of regional language specialist news and culture programming. 750,000 villages are beyond the reach of any other mass media and 20 million people just in India pay for such subscription radio on their mobile phones. Mobile phone based radio services generate as much revenues out of India as 'real' broadcast radio in the country of over a Billion people.
Meanwhile the innovation opportunities are also enormous. Facebook is familiar to us as a web based and obviously 'text' based social network. In India the local Facebook executives noticed that there was no social network serving the illiterate parts of India so they created the voice Facebook version - to allow social networking via voice. A huge hit in India. Meanwhile in Indonesia, many people don't care for other internet services, they only want Facebook, so the local phone providers innovated in releasing Facebook phones - mobile phones that do voice and text just like any other and have a full QWERTY keyboard similar to a Blackberry, but the gimmick is, that these have a Facebook button that goes to FB, but offer no other 'real' internet services. They have millions of happy customers on these new phones.
Think about the future. Education is the key to long term growth for any nation. How is South Africa using mobile to help educate its children? A pilot program with 40 high schools covering 3,000 students helped them with math lessons. Did it work? It resulted in 14% better math performance in the national math exams.
We could go on and on, but that is enough of a sampling of what is mobile in the Emerging World. It is not an iPhone app (nor an app on Android or even Symbian). The services in the Emerging World need to be suitable for the phones and services they use. If you want to reach the mass market, it is voice and SMS. It can also be IVR, USSD, MMS and if you want to do browser-based services, you start with WAP and consider HTML as a premium offering. Don't think of doing any smartphone apps for most of the Emerging World if the intent is to offer mass market services for consumers. If Coca Cola says in the USA that their priority is 70% messaging, 20% mobile web and 10% smartphone apps - we can safely shift those priorities to be more like 90%, 9% and 1% for Emerging World countries especially like Africa, India etc.
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