[iDC] Cell phones in developing countries

Martin Lucas mlucas at igc.org
Thu Mar 1 12:10:11 EST 2007

Hi All,

Some 680,000,000 people live in Africa, so the cell phone penetration that Trebor writes about suggest access for some 20% of the population.  My own investigations in this area led me to projects by oneworld.net.  One of their founders, Peter Armstrong, told me that their research in Africa showed that each cell phone actually represented several users, as the phones are shared in a variety of ways, giving penetration figures in Kenya of closer to 80%.  As Trebor notes, the precarious nature of the labor market is a factor.  Oneworld.net set up one project in Nairobi, for example that was a kind of SMS job bank that allowed workers to connect with employment quickly and successfully. Significantly, oneworld works directly with local operators to design socially useful mobile platforms.

A look at the oneworld.net site turns up pieces like this:

Connectivity through mobile phones in Africa is growing at a very fast pace. According to recent studies, statistics have showed that nearly 97% of all Tanzanians say they can access a mobile phone, and what is just as interesting, as in many African countries, is how those phones are being used.

At a recent ‘Mobile Monday’ event in New York, an industry spokesperson suggested that a majority of internet access will be via mobile devices by 2008, and much of that in the ‘developing world’.  They went on to paint a picture of the mobile device of the future as a marketing tool par excellance, able to target the user locatively, able to shift campaigns on a dime, etc. 

One of the things to think about in this context is how open mobile platforms are.  In the US they are pretty closed.  Some European manufacturers and operators espouse open source standards, but in an era when most people will go online via their phone, the picture looks fairly bleak, with an outlook for access much more restrictive than what is possible through a computer platform.

-----Original Message-----
>From: Trebor Scholz <trebor at thing.net>
>Sent: Dec 31, 2033 10:10 PM
>To: IDC list <idc at bbs.thing.net>
>Subject: [iDC] Cell phones in developing countries
>The growth of cell phone use in Africa is indeed explosive: the lack of an extensive landline telephony infrastructure makes mobile phones a good alternative.
>But consider this: In 2006, the Washington Post published an article showing that "worldwide, there are more than 2.4 billion cell phone users... and [a]bout
>59 percent of these users are in developing countries, making cell phones the first telecommunications technology in history to have more users there than in
>the developed world." [1] Cell phone usage in Africa, the article continued, is growing faster than in any other region and jumped from 63 million users two
>years ago to about 152 million. This is not some kind of mobile business evangelism: life in Africa is changed drastically for those with access. 
>Africa is in the grip of a mobile phone revolution. "The number of mobile phone lines in Africa rose from 15.6 to 135 million between 2000 and 2005"
>OhmyNews reported how women in South Africa fight for their human rights with cell phones. [2] This report continued: “In a culture where people travel
>long distances to find work, the mobile has become the most useful and ubiquitous piece of technology since the bicycle. Just as bicycles are used in rural
>Africa to transport bananas or paying passengers, the mobile is changing lives in ways unimagined in the developed world. It links distant families and allows
>the poor to communicate.” 
>[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/08/AR2006070801063.html
>[2] http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?no=339544&rel_no=1
>Further Reading:
>Talk is cheap, and getting cheaper
>How mobile phones might revolutionize agriculture in West Africa
>Wind and sun powered base station powers up in Africa
> For Africa, a godsend in cellphones
>From Matatu to the Masai via mobile
>The Future of Africa, part 1
>The Future of Africa, part 2
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