Weekly Roundup : 6 Billion Mobile Users – Billions of Business Possibilities
This week a group of telecommunications and nonprofit leaders got together at the Brookings Institution to talk mobile technology, poverty, and business.
The meeting was framed with commentary on how mobile devices and phones – growing ever smarter – are penetrating every corner of the world. With 5 billion of the 6 billion mobile users living the the developing nations, the infrastructure and the applications to go with it are expanding exponentially.
Sonal Shah, a senior fellow at the Case Foundation, pointed out that the technology is only part of the story:
“I think sometimes in development we try to solve the technology problem first, and then we figure out that it wasn’t the problem we were solving for. It’s an information problem that needs a technology, not a technology problem that needs information,” Shal said according to a report in CIO. “…Whether it’s Facebook or Google, as they get feedback they’re constantly adding and making changes to it, and that I think is one way in a process of innovation that we might think about how we look at technology differently.”
Reading the account of this discussion was a bit like reading the pages of NextBillion in recent weeks. As many recent posts have illustrated on our Big Idea Page, where the focus of late has been mobile apps, – cellular technology may be exciting plumbing, but it is still plumbing, nonetheless. The real value is what flows through the tubes, how it can be tested, modified and improved with the help of customers throughout the developing world. What’s really exciting is the level to which companies and their respective business plans are bleeding into one another.
For example, NextBillion contributor Jake Kendall, a program officer in the Financial Services for the Poor initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, delved this week into the illuminating model behind M-KOPA in Kenya. Instead of selling their solar lighting products, M-KOPA essentially “collateralizes the loan to buy the device with the device itself.” The solar power unit is connected to a mobile network. If customers do not make payments, the connected device is switched off via the network. “This approach could likely be applied to any durable good with an integrated circuit, opening a whole new market,” he concludes.
I’d also suggest checking out the thoughtful analysis by Ignacio Mas and Tonny Omwansa, who delve deeply into M-Shwari, a new product offered by Safaricom, the proprietors of the wildly successful M-PESA, and the Commercial Bank of Africa. M-Shwari carries no fees to open an account, nor are there monthly fees or minimum account balances. With the growth of mobile money comes more options, and more reasons for a more savvy and informed customer.
This applies also to management of vast urban centers, where the majority of those living at the base of the pyramid reside. This week, the New Cities Foundation released the results of its Connected Commuting Task Force, which explores how real-time information sharing, mostly over cellular networks, can improve the daily grind of commuting. According to the executive summary, “commuters’ ability to receive or share information in real time with other travelers during the commute can effectively reduce transport-related stress and provide a sense of community, which ultimately results in an improved commute experience.” Whether it’s a chauffeur-driven Maybach in Dubai or a rickshaw driven by a vendor making $2 a day in Mumbai, big city congestion and the stress it creates affects everyone, rich or poor. It naturally follows that the less stressed out people are, the more economically productive they can be. You can find the full report here. (Hat tip: Rochelle Beck)