Maximizing Mobiles Benefits (1-3)
This report from the World Bank finds that mobile applications not only empower individuals but have important cascade effects stimulating growth, entrepreneurship, and productivity throughout the economy as a whole. Mobile communications promise to do more than just give the developing world a voice. By unlocking the genie in the phone, they empower people to make their own choices and decisions. Mobile applications not only empower individual users, they enrich their lifestyles and livelihoods, and boost the economy as a whole. Indeed, mobile applications now make phones immensely powerful as portals to the online world. A new wave of “apps,” or smartphone applications, and “mashups” of services, driven by high-speed networks, social networking, online crowd sourcing, and innovation, is helping mobile phones transform the lives of people in developed and developing countries alike.
With some 6 billion mobile subscriptions in use worldwide, around three-quarters of the world’s inhabitants now have access to a mobile phone. Mobiles are arguably the most ubiquitous modern technology: in some developing countries, more people have access to a mobile phone than to a bank account, electricity, or even clean water .Mobile communications now offer major opportunities to advance human development—from providing basic access to education or health information to making cash payments to stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes.
The developing world is “more mobile” than the developed world. In the developed world, mobile communications have added value to legacy communication systems and have supplemented and expanded existing information flows. However, the developing world is following a different, “mobile first” development trajectory. Many mobile innovations—such as multi-SIM card phones, low-value recharges, and mobile payments—have originated in poorer countries and are spreading from there. New mobile applications that are designed locally and rooted in the realities of the developing world will be much better suited to addressing development challenges than applications transplanted from elsewhere. In particular, locally developed applications can address developing-country concerns such as digital literacy and affordability. Longer about the phone itself, but about how it is used, and the content and applications to which mobile phones provide access.
Engaging mobile applications for development requires an enabling “ecosystem.” Apps are software “kernels” that sit on a mobile device (typically a smartphone or tablet) and that can often interact with internet-based services to, for instance, access updates. Most apps are used by individual users, but the applications that may prove most useful for development are those usually developed within an ecosystem that involves many different players, including software developers, content providers, network operators, device manufacturers, governments, and users.
Although the private sector is driving the market, social intermediaries, such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play an important role in customizing applications to meet the needs of local communities. In many countries, a ready-made community of developers has already developed services based around short message service (SMS) or instant messaging (IM) and is now developing applications for more sophisticated devices. Policy-makers need to create an environment in which players can collaborate as well as compete. That will require rethinking regulations governing specific sectors such as financial services, health, or education.
Governments also play a fundamental role in establishing necessary conditions in which mobile communications can thrive through the allocation of wireless spectrum, enactment of vital legislation, and leadership in mobile government, or Government.
The mobile revolution is right at the start of its growth curve. Devices are becoming more powerful and cheaper. But the app economy requires economies of scale to become viable. The report argues that now is the time to evaluate what works and to move toward the commercialization, replication, and scaling up of those mobile apps that drive development. Until recently, most services using mobiles for development were based on text messaging. Now, the development of inexpensive smartphones and the spread of mobile broadband networks are transforming the range of possible applications. Several challenges lie ahead, notably, the fragmentation that arises from multiple operating systems and platforms. It is already clear, however, that the key to unleashing the power of the internet for the developing world lies in the palm of our hands.
Why mobile phones are now considered indispensable?
The report’s opening chapter provides an overview of the key trends shaping and transforming the mobile industry as well as their impact on development. The chapter examines the evolution of the mobile phone from a simple channel for voice to one for exchanging text, data, audio, and video through the internet. Given technological convergence, mobile handsets can now function as a wallet, camera, television, alarm clock, calculator, address book, calendar, newspaper, gyroscope, and navigational device combined. The latest smartphones are not just invading the computer space; they are reinventing it by offering so much more in both voice and nonvoice services.
Developing countries are increasingly well placed to exploit the benefits of mobile communications, with levels of access rising around the world. Chapter 1 explores the implications of the emergence of high-speed broadband networks in developing countries, and how the bond between mobile operators and users is loosening, as computer and internet companies invade the mobile space, with a growing number of handset models now offering Wi-Fi capability.
The chapter also examines the size and nature of the mobile economy and the emergence of new players in the mobile ecosystem. The emergence of apps, or special software on handheld devices that interacts with internet-based data services, means that the major issue for the development community today is no longer basic access to mobile phones but about what can be done with phones. More than 30 billion apps had been downloaded worldwide by early 2012, and they make for an innovative and diverse mobile landscape with a potentially large impact on the lives of people in developed and developing countries alike. Growing opportunities for small-scale software developers and local information aggregators are allowing them to develop, invent, and adapt apps to suit their individual needs. Users themselves are becoming content providers on a global scale.
Indeed, the latest generations of mobile telephony are sowing social and political as well as economic transformation. Farmers in Africa are accessing pricing information through text messages, mothers can receive medical reports on the progression of their pregnancy by phone, migrant workers can send remittances without banks. Elections are monitored and unpopular regimes toppled with the help of mobile phones. Texting and tweeting have become part of modern vocabulary.
Mobiles are now creating unprecedented opportunities for employment, education, and entertainment in developing countries. This chapter looks beyond specific examples to identify the broader trends shaping and redefining our understanding of the word “mobile.”
By Alula Berhe Kidani, E-mail:email@example.com, 03/08/2012