According to the GSMA, there are nearly 5 billion active individual mobile phone contracts on the planet at the moment. Sure – many of these will still be for individuals who have more than one device, but it is still felt that by 2020, around 75% of the world’s population will have some form of mobile device.
With global and local handset manufacturers moving from the provision of low-end, voice-only handsets for emerging markets to making cheap smartphones available, this can lead to a whole new approach in how such markets can operate at the social and economic basis.
As mobile connectivity increases in these countries and the use of 4G and 5G overtakes the old 2G and 3G connections originally put in place for the major conurbations, relatively high speed, universal wireless connectivity becomes the norm. The smartphone can become a personal hotspot for the individuals to use for other items to connect to the greater world as needed. But what sort of things could this bring in?
Firstly, consider health. Low-cost wearable sensors could be provided to monitor such things as blood pressure, blood sugar levels and so on. For patients that have been seen by a travelling doctor and have been diagnosed with, say, a fever, cheap, disposable digital thermometers can measure and send back data via the mobile device on a regular basis, so that the doctor can respond on a more ‘as needed’ basis.
The same goes for pregnancy – rather than hoping that nothing untoward will happen between visits when the doctor/midwife just happens to be in the area, wearables can send back data as needed so that the health of the mother can be monitored centrally on a regular basis. Many issues can then be dealt with directly over the mobile device, via voice or video call; other areas through the sending of links to the phone; others by scheduling a visit from a lower-skilled local healthcare professional. Only where a real emergency is obvious does the doctor have to go to the patient directly.
Now consider the economic basis.
As these smartphones do all have browser capabilities, individuals can now cooperate and trade with each other far more easily. A farmer in one area of the country can use cloud-based systems to find customers in other areas – or can input details of crop availability to food processor companies that may wish to buy the crops. Issues, such as the occurrence of a pest such as locusts or impending drought, can be quickly logged so that plague tracking can be initiated and dealt with far more effectively. The farmer can also keep a closer eye on what is happening across their farm through the use of internet of things (IoT) devices being connected to the mobile device.
Small, local farmers can let villagers know when they will be in the area with specific crops, and what price they would like for them. They can then take orders and adjust prices as necessary to ensure that the entire crop is sold at a good margin in the minimum number of journeys required.
Farmers can also become cooperatives. They can come together to provide a more complete offer – one lorry can pick up supplies from multiple farms and deliver packages of, say, maize, milk, meat, vegetables and fruit to markets, or even directly to customers. Smartphones can provide mapping and geo-analytical systems to ensure that the lorries take the optimum route, minimising the costs of fuel and stress on the vehicle itself.
By coming together as a cooperative, it also provides the farmers with greater collective bargaining power when dealing with downstream food processing and wholesale companies. Offers of crops can be sent to multiple different prospective customers at the same time, getting them to compete with each other to gain delivery of the crops to themselves.
Individuals can create their own businesses. Goods that sell well to richer foreigners, such as ethnic art and jewellery can be advertised directly via the web, using the mobile device as a means of inputting the goods into cloud-based retail systems. On the sale of an item, the monies paid by the customer can be cleared via e.g. PayPal into an easily accessible account; the individual can arrange for the items to be picked up by a courier or to be sent for first-stage delivery to a more central place via train, boat or plane as required.
For the countries involved, the rise in personal mobile device ownership must be seen as a major chance for individual, local and central innovation. However, contract prices need to be managed to ensure that the cost equation to the individual is obvious.
Governments may need to provide community systems, where a few mobile devices are made available to a community on the understanding that the devices will be made available to individuals on an as needed basis. However, this is a minor issue, as the figures show such major growth in device ownership. Where real help will be required is in creating and providing low-cost access to the cloud-based services involved. It may be that data contracts are subsidised under a country’s health budgets, as the returns can be so major in this area. Healthcare based cloud services can also be funded the same way – or via foreign aid or non-governmental organisation (NGO) funding projects. If the device and data contracts are so covered, the individual and their community can then work on building the additional services themselves.
In the early stages, governments may find that providing grants or prizes based around individuals and groups which create innovative cloud-based services that help a specific group of people or deal with a specific general need will drive innovation in how mobile devices can be used.
A mobile device-first approach to social and economic success will be different to that which has already occurred in more mature markets. It is far more of an opportunity, as there is little technology already existing that must be considered. Such an environment gives massive opportunities to those involved.