Development Impacts of Mobile Penetration

The global penetration of mobile telephony strikingly illustrates the potential for new communications technologies to open expanding markets, with a significant bearing on economic development and poverty reduction.

The emergence of mobile technology has proven especially crucial for developing countries. As outlined in the 2008/09 Global Information Report, mobile penetration enables poorer countries to "leapfrog" fixed infrastructure providing telephony access to communities who have previously subsisted without. In other words, whereas in the developed world mobile technology has been part of an incremental evolution in telephony services, in regions such as Africa the technology's emergence has been revolutionary.

In 2005 the London Business School reported that growth in mobile subscriptions since the beginning of the decade occurred faster in Africa than in any other world region. The impacts of this revolution are felt in areas from improved business efficiency and job creation to increased provision of financial and health-care services.

The potential in mobile business for economic development is supported by numerous studies, Bangladesh being a classic case. In the 1990s, Grameen Bank, a non-for-profit enterprise, provided entrepreneurs in Bangladeshi villages with micro-loans for buying mobile phones. The entrepreneurs, most of whom were female, then sold access by the call to other villagers, making themselves a significant profit while providing the community with the benefits of enhanced connectivity.

Now, at the dawn of a new decade, emerging multimedia services have the potential to once again stimulate economic growth and revolutionise social life in some of the poorest countries. By developing granular business insight and shaping pricing structures to serve the unique challenges and requirements of developing communities, telecommunications service providers can gain much from their investment into these rapidly expanding markets.