Rob Katz

Hot Topic: Mobile Phones and Africa

Celtel Service MapMobile phones? impact in Africa has been a hot topic of late, on NextBillion and around the blogosphere. The Washington Post recently got into the game with an excellent article, ?In War-Torn Congo, Going Wireless to Reach Home,? that received front-page status in the well-read Sunday print edition (excerpts below). The folks at PSD Blog, meanwhile, alerted me to an online discussion starting today: How to Help Technology Help African Entrepreneurs? Check it out and post your comments.

Africa’s mobile phone growth rates are the highest in the world:

Few places are seeing faster growth than Congo, which has 3.2 million cellphone customers and just 20,000 conventional land lines. At least 8,000 new cellphone customers sign up each day here; the number of users has increased more than tenfold in the past five years…

BOP-specific innovations enable communities to adopt new technologies:

…A large part of Iyombe’s business is transferring airtime for his customers. They give him cash, and he transfers the minutes from his phone to wherever the customer wants them sent — a friend, a relative or a business partner, often in some distant corner of this country the size of Western Europe.

Cell phones are a central element of the growing Congolese economy:

The demand for cellphone calls has sprouted several offshoot industries. For a fee, people type text messages for the illiterate. In places where there is little or no electricity — which means most of Congo — entrepreneurs set up small diesel-powered generators and connect plug boards with 30 sockets. People plug in their phones to charge for a couple of hours for about 30 cents.