According to World Bank, as of June 2012, 3/4 of the world's population had access to a mobile device…that's approximately 5.2 billion people! Mobile subscriptions in October reached a whopping 6 billion. Compare that with 1 billion subscriptions in 2000 and you can see just how far mobile has come. Of the 6 billion subscriptions nearly 5 billion of them are in developing nations. What does this all mean for the future of these countries? Better quality of life. Better access to knowledge. Better ways to stay informed.
So how is mobile changing lives and empowering individuals across the globe? Below we'll examine a few of the ways mobile phones have been revolutionizing the way the developing world, well, develops.
Power of Internet Connection
Let's start with what is perhaps the most beneficial and apparent perk of mobile devices – internet connection. Individuals in developing nations who, in the past, have been unable to afford or access the internet are now able to do so using a mobile device. In Africa, Asia, and South America cell phones often act as the internet. It's cheaper and easier for them to access the internet from a cellular device than other means.
However, there are still some pitfalls as those in the poorest situations in developing nations report forgoing necessities such as food or bus fare to afford mobile internet. Luckily, some big players in the mobile and internet industry are stepping up to the plate bringing these people closer to free internet.
At the beginning of November (2012), Google launched a service called “Free Zone” aimed at giving internet connected mobile devices with limited features access to basic Google tools such as Google+, Gmail, and Google search for free.
Spurring Entrepreneurial Development
With new industries comes a stronger economy and job creation. infoDev has been critical in recognizing the opportunity for advancement in developing nations by funding and covering a wide array of mobile centered initiatives.
For example, infoDev, with funding from Finland and Nokia, sponsored the creation of mLabs, which provides open spaces for mobile developers in underdeveloped nations to network and build new mobile apps. These mLabs help developing nations on two fronts by 1) Giving those mobile developers the chance to further their work and scale commercially, and 2) Spurring the creation of apps that help struggling citizens in those developing nations. Currently, these nifty mLabs can be found in Armenia, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, and Vietnam.
Expanding Banking Services to the Remote
Not so long ago, February of 2012 to be exact, Barclay's released Pingit, a mobile app that enables the transfer of money without a bank. While this technology is relatively new in the developed world, these transactions have been occurring in developing countries as they build their infrastructure off of mobile networks.
M-Pesa, started in 2007, is a money transfer service currently helping 15 million Kenyans transfer money using a mobile device. Similar services are catching on in other African nations. Using money transfer services, Africans can now pay their bills, buy items, send money to individuals, and receive money from relatives living abroad.
Another helpful banking service can be found in India where NPCI(National Payments Corporation of India)'s Inter-Bank Mobile Payment Service acts as an ATM for over 60 banks enabling 840+ million mobile subscribers to transfer money even in remote locations where a brick and mortar bank is unlikely.
Access to Vital Information
Something as simple as a text message, which many in developed nations take for granted, can make the world of difference for farmers in Africa. Using SMS messaging, farmers are able to share information about fair market value of crops and weather forecasts — a feat that was impossible for those people in the most remote locations before the introduction of mobile. In Niger, this has resulted in a 30% higher profit for farmers who no longer need to travel into town for pricing.
Medically speaking, mobile has been used to share a tremendous amount of vital information across developing nations. For example, in Kenya text messages are used to remind AIDs patients to take their medication. Another situation found African babies dying from fake medicine, an epidemic in which 30% of medicine coming through was fake. That's when a Ghanian student came up with the solution of providing unique scratch off codes on medicine bottles. These codes could then be texted to an authorized number that would verify the authenticity of the medication.
Many of these innovations can be attributed to feature phones. What steps stand in the way of getting smartphones in the hands of developing countries?
1) The Price Point: In many developing nations the average daily income is very low. Last year Huawei, in partnership with Safaricom, released an Android phone priced at $80 in Kenya.
While these devices sold well in Kenya, experts believe that a $50 price point is the magic number, or tipping point if you will, for converting feature phone users to smartphone users in developing countries.
However, these prices will do little to put smartphones in the hands of the lowest paid in developing nations who often receive wages under $1 a day. This is something that will need to be addressed as smartphone adoption rates begin to increase globally.
2) Major Players Step Up: Google is stepping in to sell 200 million Android devices, and experts expect 1 billion mobile devices in Africa by 2016. Recent news suggests that the Google Nexus line is targeting a cheaper price point with a goal of “mobilizing” more of the world's population.
Still want to know more? Check out infoDev's website. With a mission of strengthening mobile globally, the infoDev website offers a wealth of information regarding mobile happenings around the globe.