The modus operandi must change…it will never be business as usual, a new kid is on the block and the media industry shall be shaken like never before.
A study analyses a landslide of mobile usage in the developing world. To businesses, these figures present an ideal BoP model. With titanic shift in the number of mobile users in the South, ignore the data at your own risk.
According to a study by Internews Europe, titled ‘The Promise of Ubiquity-Mobile as a Media Platform in the Global South’, growth of mobile phone reach is a threat to traditional media, just as the Internet has been — and on a larger scale in developing countries.
The study predicts mobile telephony to be the world’s first universal communications platform — one that is getting there faster than anyone expected.
Its major path of growth, reveals the study, is now in the global South, where the mobile is not just a phone but a global address, a transaction device, and an identity marker for hundreds of millions of poor people.
“This holds unprecedented opportunity formed in developing countries to engage their core audiences more deeply, reach new audiences on the edge of their current footprint, and provide interactive and customised information services that are both profitable and life-improving,” reads the study in part.
If media doesn’t address the mobile as a viable information platform, the study warns, others will, and within the space of a few years media players will have lost a large measure of their market share, ‘mind share’, and standing in society at large.
The face of mobile telephony in Kenya is also poised to take a different turn according to yet another study.
The South’s northward trend
Sometime in 2007 or 2008, reveals the incisive study, the half-way mark was reached — estimates for the number of mobile phones in the world now vary between 3 and 3.8 billion. The rich world led the way from the 1980s on, and markets are now saturated in Europe and North America, as they are among Third World elites.
“But most of the growth is now in the developing world, well down the social scale and stretching into the informal economy. And the rate of expansion is speeding up. It took 15 years for the first quarter of the world to get mobile phones, by 2003, and about four years for the second quarter. The next billion mobile phone owners, predicted by 2011, will be over 90 per cent in the global South.”
According to the study spearheaded by John West and supported by the Dutch Foreign Ministry, mobile has long since surpassed the Internet in terms of numbers of users. And unlike the Internet, subject of fierce Digital Divide debates among enthusiasts and skeptics for a decade, it has been spontaneously adopted by billions of people and embedded deep in social consciousness.
“African peasants paint their mobile phone number over their front doors. Indian slum dwellers buy SIM cards to use on friends handsets. Chinese students spend three months’ allowance to buy a handset they can surf the web with. But across significant sections of the global South the mobile phone now rivals television in reach. This mobile-led space is currently masked from view, partly by a lag in compilation of statistics, and partly by ‘the decision makers bubble’,” argues the report.
Mobile-led space is set to grow.
Amazingly too, the study reveals how mobile communication is overtaking the traditional media like television in the dissemination of news.
Around Africa, says the study, from business districts and leafy suburbs, where the mobile vies with so many other channels, 15 million people now individually own mobile phones but do not have access to a TV at home. Across the 50 poorest countries of the world, mobile ownership has grown by over 70 per cent a year, every year, since the turn of the century.
BoP business model
If this growth was spontaneous, there are now powerful global forces amplifying it. The mobile industry has become perhaps the best paradigm of a Bottom of the Pyramid business, with multi-billion dollar corporations targeting the poor as central, rather than peripheral, to their future.
Operators like Vodafone, who could once command $100 a month per subscriber, now aggressively target markets like India, where the average is more like $5 and dropping.
Phone manufacturers like Nokia and Ericsson send designers to India and China and compete to produce handsets to retail at under $25. As per the report, all over the developing world the argument for liberalisation of telecoms has been largely won, as governments have bought the ‘mobile for development’ argument over the vested interest of incumbent operators and the short-term prospect of high tax revenues from a limited base.
Global tech titans like Google and Microsoft are looking at the mobile as the next platform for software and information services of all kinds, and are eager to grab a piece of it.
The resulting competition creates relentless downward pressure on prices and accelerates the move by operators into ‘Value Added Services’, foremost among which is information services.
“In terms of ubiquity, it is no longer a case of if, but when. A world, in which nearly everyone owns a mobile linked into networks advanced enough to offer video and location-based services, is years, not decades away,” predicts the study.”
To download full report from Euronews website, click here