Imagine the view from Everest. That summit beyond compare, the calm and then … the ringtone. With 100,000 phone masts erected each year, coverage is virtually blanket and the impact of mobile telephony with all its features is growing. And yet, once the must have accessory of the well off, it has become a vital working tool for those from the Majority World.

A Study by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an agency of the UN, Confronting the Crisis: Its impact on the ICT Industry is all about how the crash, crunch and crisis has impacted the ICT industry and makes clear that “the ICT industry occupies a unique place at the cross roads of technical investment, productivity and social policy in terms of the digital divide.”  The Report sees ICT as one of the solution industries and mobile technology as a key enabler and means to assist many sectors and geographies to accelerate out of these uncertain times.

 The Report reveals that half the globe now pays to use a mobile phone, although it is tough – as with newspaper readership – to figure out how many people actually use mobile phones.  For example, in Africa many villages share a single phone and, the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh provides loans for  women to set up shop hiring out mobile access.

T L sees mobile telephony as key to inclusive and sustainable growth and welcomes the insight and base data that this ITU Report provides.  

The ITU Report covers other aspects of communications such as broadband – highlighting that 25% of the world’s 6.7 billion people use the internet – but it is the use of mobile technology that is having the most profound impact on the informal market and, the logistics initiatives that T L develops. In fact, it is said that the favelhas of Brasil are the front line of the mobile phone revolution in a country with 151.9 m out of a total population of 190 million.

The Developing world now accounts for +/- 66% of mobile users, compared with less than half in 2002 and this trend is leaving terrestrial services well behind as a legacy system recording little or no growth in the past few years. Africa is the fastest growth , where penetration has soared from just one in 50 people in 2000 to 28% now and India is adding up to 10 million users a month. As the ITU Report makes clear: “The spread of mobile cellular services and technologies has made great strides towards connecting the previously unconnected”.

Fixed Broadband connectivity is weak in the Devloping world with a mere 0.2% connected in 2007. There is a clear digital divide between the rich and the poor global population. However, the momentum of the mobile phone is likely to assist in greater penetration for broadband.

The value added from mobile telephony goes way beyond voice and those applications with the biggest impact on quality of life or ease of doing business are having a huge transformative impact.

  • Productivity. An ability to use dead time more prodcutively is a major plus in the developing and congested emerging world. Even traffic jams can be productive.   
  • SMS. Phome users sent 700 billion messages in 2008. As a means to connect families and friends it is well known and twitter is likely to open this up still further. But variations on this feature are opening up the possibility of comparing prices and placing orders for all types of goods and services. All sorts of transactional possibilities open up over distances in remote rural districts.  
  • Money transfer. This is a having a massive impact as money transfer services allow people without bank accounts to send money speedily and safely by text, which the recipient can cash in at the other end. For example, Vodafone’s M-Pesa money transfer service was launched in Kenya in 2007 and now has 5 million users.
  • GPS applications. By 2050 over 70% of the world’s 9 billion population will live in cities whose sprawl will be difficult to navigate. The potential for all sorts of delivery services is clear.  
  • Photos. As a record of Events in life they have become increasingly popular. However, the ability to see what is going on can have major impact in remote supervision of assets or, the regulation of standards all along the supply chain. For example, there is an acute shortage – and high turnover – of service engineers in Ports in India. Mobile applications and digital photography can enable remote more specialist support to be in more places than one. This needs to be developed.

And back to voice. In Kenya with its > 100 languages and dialects, Nokia have a project to capture a dictionary of key vocabulary. This is then being used to set up voice commands for the illiterate and this opens up a range of possibilities.

On this Blog, we have referred several times to the ways in which Kerala fishermen have used their mobile phones up to 30 kms out to sea to check prices and auction their catch before they land. The impact is clear: a 9% hike in prices; zero waste and a 6% drop in consumer prices. Now, we are looking to open up the debate with other examples. 

Mobile telephony is playing a major role in transforming connectivity between remote rural areas and their local, national and even global markets. It is opening up all sorts of connectivity and, as it enables people to check availability before they set out and, to find their way to their destination more efficiently their are clear benefits in terms of carbon emissions.

T L is looking hard at mobile telephony and this ITU Report provides valuable  base data and insights into status, trends and applications. Now for more detailed analysis of the benefits that can be generated and, the fresh practice that can transform outcomes and support inclusive and sustainable growth.