Mobile phones were once merely a status symbol, but in less than three decades they have become a ubiquitous technology involved in most interactions in our lives. Developing countries are powering the rapid spread of mobile technology, with China and India accounting for the majority of new mobile connections and a rise in overseas top up services. A 2009 study in India highlighted that every 10 percent increase in mobile penetration leads to a 1.2 percent increase in GDP. However, patterns in mobile phone usage in the developing world are vastly different from developed countries. Feature phones are mostly used in developing countries, and for those living in low income and rural areas, the mobile revolution is being pioneered through SMS, voice and asynchronous connection.
Such connectivity restraints have fuelled innovative solutions to problems in areas such as finance, health, agriculture and education. For example, farmers in rural areas in Africa and Asia can use SMS services to find out daily prices of agricultural commodities. This information allows them to improve their bargaining position when taking their goods to market. In Kenya, healthcare workers are providing AIDS patients with a weekly text message service that checks antiretroviral drugs are being taken correctly. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in active use of medication and savings in travel and treatment costs.
The spread of mobile technology also means that airtime has become another form of currency. In developing countries where the majority of people have no or limited access to bank accounts, mobile top up services are an easy way to transfer small amounts of money by purchasing airtime. For migrants, overseas top up services are a convenient way to send remittances and support family back in their hometown. For example, mobile phone credit can be easily added to a loved one’s prepaid mobile phone using a fast, secure and inexpensive overseas top up service, such as Senditoo. The recipient may then cash out the airtime with an agent, or spend the airtime electronically within the mobile money environment.
With their inflexibility and high price points, it is unlikely that iPhones will penetrate the developing world mobile phone market. Instead, the ideal smart phone must be cheap, rugged, and with a long battery life, for areas where electricity might not be reliable. Mobile phone users in developing countries also tend to be more cautious when using data, which is expensive. The future of mobile lies in the developing world, where the explosion of uptake will lead to great economic opportunities and business innovation, capturing the world’s attention in the process.