Broadband nations: A mobile disconnect?

I have been a subscriber to Simon Andrews’ Big Picture Advertising blog for about a year now chiefly because he’s been the pioneer in tracking innovation and marketing trends on the mobile platform. While he focuses mainly on the cutting edge of the broadband nations – those who already have access to myriad other forms of connectivity and communication – his post today gave me much food for thought.

Andrews highlights a survey that shortlists the top 10 mobile applications and a quick look reveals that these are far more apropos amongst those populations which already have significant internet penetration. I’ve written in the past about mobiles penetrating emerging markets at a rapid pace, particularly in the bottom of the pyramid segments, and acting as a catalyst for socioeconomic development. In fact one of the Top 10 applications is the BBC’s site, where their recent research shows that the majority of their WAP news readers are from the continent of Africa.

What is my point here? Well, for the segment for whom the mobile phone is rapidly becoming a means to improve their economic standing or even their daily earnings, the majority of these applications are not quite relevant. One reason is because these applications act as an ancillary to many of the facilities available on the internet, and most of the users have access to a personal computer of some form or the other.

But for those at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones for whom the GSM association is creating award programs in order to spur the development of affordable phones, the computer is a luxury, both in terms of cost as well as infrastructure. Not to mention literacy, both computer or otherwise.

The top 10 mobile applications for them would be those that offer connectivity, communication and commerce; or a combination thereof. I’ve been digging into this area of late and have come across many initiatives, but none on the scope and scale of the kinds of applications available to those of us with the luxury of easy online connectivity. The first that springs to mind is social networking – not the ‘hello, i’m on dodgeball lets grab a beer’ but ‘Need medical help in the wilds of [fill in suitable remote outpost] is there a doctor who can help?’

Thats just one example of the potential that I’ve begun to see in the mobile as a post industrial platform for socioeconomic development in emerging markets. What about how flash mobs are formed? Can you imagine a similar concept used when an earthquake takes place in the remote part of the NorthWest Frontier or a tsunami spread across the Indian Ocean?

The possibilities are endless. And the mobile phone already exists but is, to use an old cliche, selling like hotcakes in these very markets. Time to get to work on this project, no?

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6 Responses to Broadband nations: A mobile disconnect?

  1. Good post – I do think that mobile can be a major force for good in emerging economies. We’ve seen how sms can galvanise political action in the Philippines and i think building applications that people can use is the next step – how useful would be froogle like tool to check the price crops are being sold for, so the producers can get better prices from the middlemen?
    My new role with Mindshare is a gobal one, and whilst most of my time wil be on more developed regions I want to get involved in the other areas as that is where we’ll see our growth coming from. Can brands develop tools that help in this area? We’ll see.

  2. niti bhan says:

    Simon, the froogle idea is very cool. you ask the question if brands can help develop the tools in this area – a couple of issues come to mind – wouldn’t it make more sense to form a consortium of interested brand/companies to look into this area together? or have some kind of assocation or organizing body fund the initial research into what would be the kinds of solutions required for this platform? the answers/ideas – like your froogle or some others that I have, could then be the ‘solutions’ developed by differnt companies.

  3. I think that is a valid way – but the organisation required is not trivial (as my programmer friends say). Understanding what the real needs are, is of course crucial.
    My point about brands comes out of our thinking on branded utility – that brands need to be useful to get attention these days. So could a Unilever brand facilitate some service/application rather than just spend their money in advertising. The brand would need to relate to service in some way.
    So with the research findings appropriate brands could be approached. And what could Google do here?

  4. niti bhan says:

    Simon, I really truly don’t know what to say right now. How about we wait and see and talk again in the New Year.

  5. niti bhan says:

    Or you could visit the Indian conference in Dec 2006.

  6. Hi Nita – Figured you might be interested in this – Through the non-profit Business Innovation Factory, Rhode Island is currently building the first border-to-border wireless network. We’re currently in the piloting phase and you can read more about it here:
    To your point above, we very much see this as an opportunity for advanced social networking applications in several key areas like healthcare, security and education. We’re already running several pilot applications.
    Best, Chris

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