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September 20, 2007

Wireless World

In reading the excellent piece on mobility in Africa in this week’s Business Week, you can’t help but get the feeling that the mobile platform is the economic spark the continent has long awaited.

We saw this first hand throughout our deep dives in Africa, and wrote about some of the fascinating mobile applications back in June. For the first time in a long time (ever?), Africans are not only rapidly adopting a so-called “first world” technology, but they are developing it, improving on it, and capitalizing on it. We have heard dozens of stories of local merchants and rural farmers using mobile phones to simply connect with buyers and sellers, improving market efficiencies and fattening bottom lines. For more on this, go to www.ibm.com, click on the Africa story, and select “The Mobile Imperative.”

But the impact of mobile phones has other, broader and more far-reaching positive effects as well. As the story in Business Week points out, Africa’s basic infrastructure is so lacking in some places, it can grind the wheels of commerce to a halt. Roads that are frequently impassable; huge swaths of land that are without electricity; painfully slow internet service. The growth of the mobile phone business, however, is starting to address some of these problems.

Now that wireless providers have learned that the rural poor is a market worth courting (there are more than 100 million mobile phone subscribers throughout Africa), there is reason to begin investing in infrastructure. To do mobile communications, you need fiber, electricity, and roads. Industry is taking the first steps towards addressing these needs.

In addition, communication, in any form, spurs commerce. Without it, you cannot have efficient markets. Now, for the first time, Africans are rapidly sharing information (sometimes in its simplest forms) and conducting business in a more sophisticated way. The result is higher margins for businesses, and better prices for consumers. It’s hard to see a loser in any of it.

Columbia University professor says plainly that mobile phones are the most important technology when it comes to transforming developing nations. Not $100 laptops. Not refurbished PCs that would take years to master. Mobile phones. Simple, affordable, easy-to-use mobile phones.

September 20, 2007 in Africa | Permalink


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While I think the $100 laptop and efforts like OLPC has a place in education in Africa, the cell phone is clearly a key driver of commerce both in Africa and in other developing areas of the world.

The cell phone is also a key driver of new small businesses in the developed world as well - and increasingly the Internet access device of choice by both consumers and businesses globally.

Posted by: Steve King | Sep 20, 2007 11:06:06 AM

I agree that Mobile Phones are an important stepping stone, and introduction to the communication revolution. On the other hand, it is reasonable to assume that there will be the same level of progress in African society that has been seen in every other society on the introduction of personal communication and computing devices, which no matter how small, is what a cell phone actually represents.

Very soon, African kids will be mapping the instruction set of their Cell phones, and writing assembly that decrypts the security identifiers, etc.

Law enforcement issues aside, this is a -good- thing!

Within only a few years after Cell phones have become commonplace, there will be a large demand for advanced technology personal computers, and the bandwidth to support megabit communications. This is when infrastructure demands on Radio Space, Electrical power, and Communications will become major barrier to progress. It would be wise to develop the solutions in advance.

Posted by: Tim Raisbeck | Sep 23, 2007 5:49:47 AM


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