'Mobile Phones and Developing Countries'- presentation by Vodafone, hosted by Technology Salon

Technology Salon, a face-to-face forum for development and technology professionals which was started by a colleague and friend Wayan Vota in DC, was for the first time held in San Francisco this morning. I was happy to be part of the San Francisco Bay Area group of ICT4D folks who discussed about mobile phones in developing countries. It always thrills me to be able to talk honestly about technology in developing countries, as well as get to know more people who are interested in this niche, and often misunderstood, field.

Today's presentation was by Terry Kramer, now Regional President - Vodafone Americas, on the current mobile industry and its implications to the developing world. Official announcement is here.

Brief summary (many of the points also contain my own thoughts) follows:

  • The Mobile Industry
    • History of the mobile industry (Terry had a great intro slide that, if I can find, I will link to- it shows the 'old' brick like mobile phones of the early 90s, and brought me into a mood of nostalgia for the times when I still felt smarter than my phone).
    • Current trends and challenges in the mobile industry:
      • Mobile and internet converging: internet applications to be accessible via mobile, and vice versa
      • Tackling the delicate balance between information efficiency and privacy
      • Net neutrality
      • Emerging markets (eg 1/3 of all mobile phone users in developing countries are less than 18 years old= has business implications)
      • Increased competition between mobile, Telco and web 2.0 provider
    •  Mobile now has the opportunity to bring:
      • Economic growth, especially in emerging countries
      • Access to information
      • Corporate responsibility
    • Mobile penetration depends on 3 things
      • good, fast networks (we are getting to 4G standards now)
      • devices
      • services
  • Implications for ICT4D in Developing World:
    • But especially in the developing world, all these 3 things depend a lot on government licensing policies, legal and policy framework for ICT, bureaucratic processes, and level of transparency/corruption. These are usually slow and problematic, entrenched in deep governance issues.
    • "Leapfrogging" is limited to the above point, in addition to the cost of brand new technologies
      • Developing world usually lags behind in infrastructure for cost reasons, and build new layers of new technology (which price has come down) upon older layers of tech. Eg. 3G network hardware/infrastructure is built as "additional modules" to existing 2G hardware, not from scratch
    • Globalization means that First World needs to learn from 3rd world as well (eg for Vodafone, UK looks to India for their solutions for keeping costs down); This is a change in paradigm in the mobile phone industry, which like Development, started with the 'we will import our technology to the 3rd world, one way'. 
    • Many new and innovating ways to use mobile technology through applications for developing world, such as mHealth Alliance, just at tip of iceburg of opportunities, most important is the issue of 'scale', because increased scale drives unit costs down, so important question for project designers: what projects can scale? Vodafone Foundation looking for such projects to fund via its Wireless Innovation Project. 

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