There are now billions of mobile Internet users on the planet, probably around a third of the total population. And when you consider desktop computers and laptops, the overall number of people who are able to get online is closer to 3 billion.
So if you thought that the mobile Internet is the future, think again because it is in fact already here. But it’s not just rich western nations that are benefiting from instant access to the Internet on all of our devices; people in developing nations to are using mobile technology to improve their lives and communicate in all manner of ways…
Mobile Internet in developing nations
Last year, Juniper Networks released details of a survey of thousands of people looking at how they benefit from getting online on all sorts of devices.
Such massive numbers of people getting online around the world is staggering:
97% of people in developing countries say that the mobile Internet has transformed their lives, compared with 78% in the richest nations including the USA.
52% of those living in developing countries say that the mobile Internet has been key in the way they work (against 26% in the west), and 40% of those people say that connectivity has improved their capability to earn more money versus 17% in the west.
Furthermore, 24% of people in developing countries use the mobile Internet for education (it’s just 12% in the rich countries), while those in developed countries typically use their mobiles online to shop (41%), bank (51%),
Poorer mobile phone owners tend to focus more on communicating, education, and research (such as looking up prices for goods, finding out the weather, etc). However, mobile payment schemes such as M-PESA in Kenya has also taken off thanks to mobiles, enabling just about anyone to make a small payment to a merchant, colleague or family member.
The Juniper report mentioned earlier essentially boils down to the fact that rich people use the mobile web for their own convenience, whereas poorer people use it primarily to advance their lives and improve their situation.
All of us in the UK for example have had access to the Internet, email, and a whole host of connected technologies and gadgets for decades and so we tend to take it for granted. But it’s easy to forget that much of the world has not, and it’s only in more recent years that faster Internet and mobile speeds, plus the availability of cheaper smartphones, has led to an explosion in mobile use and utility in developing regions.
With new schemes such as Facebook’s Internet.org and other initiatives by Google to bring the Internet to remote rural parts of the world, the number of people getting online is increasing rapidly. In developing countries, it’s still relatively rare to find 3G networks, meaning that citizens still need to suffer the bandwidth limitations that we surpassed a decade ago.
So how are mobiles making life easier for people in developing countries? Here are just a few ways…
1. Saving money (and spending money)
For many people, visiting a bank is expensive if you live in a region where banks are few and far between or in a rural area. The convenient banking service we take for granted (like credit cards, savings accounts, direct debits, etc) aren’t easy to come by for millions of people. But mobile phones enable instant digital transactions that are often cheaper than paying with cash. There are also various schemes to make credit available to the poor directly via a mobile phone, enabling them to quickly start a business or invest in their future in countless ways.
2. Saving lives
So-called ‘mHealth’ has become a way to connect people in remote areas with relevant healthcare professions, all connected via mobile phones.
This has allowed health workers in Africa for example to use a mobile to contact specialist staff who can assist with more complex issues, helping them to more quickly determine patients that need hospitalisation, or suggesting a particular course of drugs and treatment.
With near-instant links to information online and colleagues in other locations, that job would be much harder for the staff on the ground.
3. Keeping in touch
The World Bank says that 75% of people on the planet have access to a mobile phone of one kind or another, with more than 6 billion mobile subscriptions active today (an increase from a billion in 2000). But 5 billion of those subscriptions are in developing countries.
So never mind smartphones, apps and the latest Galaxy or iPhone, these people are using mobiles as they were intended – for person-to-person communication.
4. Helping farmers and those in rural areas
By reducing communication costs, farmers and those in rural areas can respond more quickly to natural disasters, conflicts and disease outbreaks. Farmers can also more readily get information concerning when to plant and harvest their crops, impacting heavily on the yields they can expect and ultimately their economic success.
5. Creating new markets
Online market places and classifieds sites have sprung up all around the world, as a way to place or respond to ads about products and services – essentially similar to Craigslist. There are such a range of such market places, some of them using a web interface, but some still use an SMS-based method that means even the most basic phones can access at least some of the information.
6. Finding jobs
Besides actually having access to online job sites and getting information quickly about relevant work, mobiles have turned millions of people into entrepreneurs, as they discover new ways to use the technology to their advantage, as well as using it as a learning resource to gain new skills. One obvious example is that of web-based freelancer sites, where a good proportion of those offering their services are from places such as Bangladesh, the Philippines and other parts of Asia.
With a cheap laptop and a mobile phone, many people are finding there is a demand for Internet-based work that can be done on an ad-hoc basis, by someone on the other side of the world, and by someone that may not have previously has the opportunity to do such work. It really has transformed the online job market into a global phenomenon.
There’s no doubt that the mobile industry is responsible for an ongoing revolution in the lives of billions of people all over the world. Developed nations have in some cases even been able to leapfrog older technology and roll out faster networks at a more rapid pace. While there is still an obvious technology gap between the richest countries and the rest, mobile phones, networks, and the associated communications infrastructure is playing a part in driving enormous change. There’s never been a more exciting time, whichever part of the world you live in…