FT: Mobile Phones Transform Life of India?s Poor

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Before he got a mobile phone seven years ago, Vijay Navle, a small Mumbai fish trader, spent much of his time and scant income travelling on buses and trains.

Every day, he would make the five-hour round trip to visit fishermen living on the Arabian Sea on the north of the city to see if they had caught any of the prawns and large fish that he sells to exporters at south Mumbai’s Sassoon Dock.

“I can immediately inform my customers that there’s a big catch coming in fresh and we get a better price for it,” says Mr Navle.Today, like a growing number of Indians, rich and poor, Mr Navle and the fishermen have mobile phones. Fishermen call him when they catch something and he arranges the pick-up and delivery to customers by phone.

For hundreds of millions of people across India such as Mr Navle, the rise of mobile telephony has led to changes in their lives as profound as the advent of the fixed-line home telephone was for rich consumers in the west.

Aside from television, the mobile handset is the first contact for many Indians with the world of sophisticated consumer electronics and their first connection with the organized modern economy. And with third-generation cellular services on the horizon, the next phase of this consumer revolution is poised to begin with the spread of the mobile internet to India’s masses.

“The mobile phone is the first piece of technology that so many people in India will have owned, it’s their first communications device and it’s their first [mobile] entertainment device,” says Kunal Bajaj, managing director with consultancy BDA in New Delhi.

Source: Financial Times (link opens in a new window)