Elsewhere on this Blog we have seen how mobiles are opening up markets all over the emerging and developing world. We have seen how Kerala fishermen are using them to check prices and auction their catch to the highest bidder. We have seen how villagers once cut off from food supplies can now place orders and check on availability. There is a world of difference between walking a few miles for food to find that the wholesaler is out of stock and, making a call before you set out to check on availability. Then, there is the whole new world of telemedicine whereby remote diagnosis can be made, prescriptions monitored and supply chains set up and improved.

These examples have enabled remote communities to have market access and, it is paving the way for more environmentally sound supply chains. Think of the wasted miles and resources when you don’t know and can’t check what to expect elsewhere.

Now, the use of computers to tap into other markets is moving fast. Approximately 6 million computers were sold in Nigeria’s informal sector last year, the Lagos newspaper This Day reports. More Nigerians are looking to purchase laptops, to take advantage of wireless set ups available through mobile phone services. In a related development, the mobile phone company MTN increased its share of the Nigerian market to 40 percent. Nigeria’s mobile phone companies make the bulk of their money through informal kiosks and hawkers who sell recharge cards and air time.

Now, we are about to witness a quantum leap in terms of what this market share and the examples used above can mean. For example,

  • Leapfrog technologies. Previously, countries had to have the capital to invest in fixed line networks. These were prohibitavely expensive. Now, mobile networks enable whole countries and communities to jump a stage in development, ignore what have become legacy systems and transform market access and, market share.
  • From capex to opex. If you don’t have to invest in so much physical infrastructure, you can move to business models with a greater reliance on operating expenditure. Given the rigidity of classic banking models that ask for high % collateral, this shift to operating expenses is a major plus.  
  • Covergence. The mobile is no longer about voice. In fact, many people within the informal sector are using the missed call feature as a form of morse code to communicate to a friend, a colleague or a customer- without paying. Advise a cab in Mumbai that you are ready and you will see this at work! The mobile is now more about knowledge transfer and, links to other technologies such as the internet and even television.  
  • Share of wallet. There is little point in building market share these days if you don’t start to explore the other needs of those who have bought what you had to offer – initially. Take football clubs and how Manchester Utd, Real Madrid and others have expanded what they offer their supporters. Even credit cards that vary interest rates based on League position. And the same with phones – once it was voice; now it is all forms of data.

    Maybe this could be developed further as market access into the informal economy can be leveraged using mobile telephony – legitimately.  

All of these examples are opening up possibilities for all types of products and services to break into new markets. And mobile and wireless technology will open up even greater potential for all forms of marketing to communicate to new consumers and create a loop from needs to suppliers and the optimal delivery mechanism for that specific neighbourhood or collection point.

What about mobiles linking mom and pop stores all over the emerging and developing world to aggregate demand and, provide the elusive bridge into the previously elusive Majority World?

The opportunity is opening up for small businesses to create and benefit from market access for all types of product and use the convergence of all of the above to improve the quality of life. This is a far cry from a handheld telephone.

Maybe we are moving from a developing and emerging world to one that can be transformed by the impact of all forms of connectivity (hard and soft infrastructure); mobility (modalities of materials movement) and skill. Let us not forget the need to explore the potential of adding what Tofler called high touch or, in this case, functional literacy and use to the high tech all around us. In other words, if you want to sell any product into the Majority World you need to explore ways in which converging communications technology can be used by the customer. And this may mean that an investment into capability or skills can have a major impact.  

Airtel in India estimate that for every 10% increase in link ups to remote villages there can be a .5% increase in GDP. This is especially key when the physical infrastructure is poor. And in developing the Bharti Foundation – primary schools in deprived areas – the group is making a crucial point about the markets in the Majority World. 

Give them a fish and feed them for a day. Teach them how to fish and feed them for a lifetime. In other words, deliver affordable products;  enable the capacity to consume and, facilitate the ability to use technology. This will open up significant sustainable markets and mobile technology can be the window into the informal world.