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Mobile trends in Africa to 2020

When we met a couple weeks ago with researchers and policy advisors at DFID we were keen to share with them the key future trends for mobiles in developing nations. For the basis of this discussion we used the slides compiled by Rudy De Waele, which cover the views of a variety of practitioners involved in ICT4D and mobile technologies in Africa.

Before I tell you what we decided on as our top five trends for 2020 let me share with you a few that helped frame our thoughts but didn’t make it into the final list. Bev Clarke, Founder of Kubatana.net in Zimbabwe, makes several personal and passionate points, most notably for ‘the use of mobile phones to improve citizens lives, such as enhancing service delivery, monitoring corruption, and deepening respect for human rights.’ The reason I didn’t include this is because, I am pleased to say, it’s already happening. In South Africa, JamiiX.com has been used to facilitate the National HIV support line; it is also being used for drug advice and mobile counselling, as well as for wider community engagements. In Kenya, Ushahidi have made great strides since they started mapping election violence in 2008 and their new product, Huduma, will map service delivery against funding received to hold governments accountable. We have also all seen how mobile phones have played a critical role in the campaign for democracy in the Middle East. This is a point picked up on by Liva Judic (@merrybubbles) when he notes that democracy will be facilitated by the generalised access to information on mobiles. He goes on to say that deals between local carriers and platforms will allow free data connection to services like 0.Facebook which ‘will help break the isolation of small villages and spread information across the most remote territories.’ I would love to see network providers giving free access to services but, in reality there are few players with the clout of Facebook. Ultimately, services will have to be chargeable for them to be sustainable and therefore provide long-term benefits to their users. Gustav Praekelt (@gustavp) understands this point when he calls for ‘per character billing on text services to increase their access ability.’ However by 2020, I believe that the availability of cheap data enabled handsets and competitive charging per kilobyte will make data services better value for money than SMS.

Lastly, both Eric Cantor, Director of Grameen Applab in Uganda, and Ken Banks, Founder of Kiwanja.net foresee African led innovation. Whilst it is essential, as Eric puts it, ‘that Africans explore technology solutions to African problems’, I do not see this happening on a scale that will see Africa becoming a ‘leading innovator, manufacturer and exporter of cutting edge energy-efficient, eco-friendly communication devices and systems to the rest of the world’ as Ken envisions.

So what do I see are the five key trends in mobile led innovation by 2020? The slide below gives the answer;

1. Connectivity – all activists see the price of handsets as falling, the only question is how fast and how far. By 2020 there will certainly be sub $50 Smartphones and plummeting data costs will expand the capabilities of those that find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. This will be a commercial response provided by competitive environments which addresses the concerns that many have about accessibility and affordability.

2. Money – we have already seen in Kenya how mobile payments have become commonplace. So the idea that mobiles will replace ATMs in Africa is not so far-fetched. Interoperability between mobile operators will be key as unified payment and money transfers become commonplace, and over the next few years we will increasingly see micro benefits, insurance and loans all being made via mobiles.

3. Learning – it is not just the cost of education that can be prohibitive for many but also the distance to travel to school that restricts opportunity for the rural poor. Universal mobile ownership extends the classroom and enables people to access education in small bite-size amounts that are affordable. Government, business and NGO collaboration will be vital in driving innovation such as with animated educational games and language options.

4. Empowerment – everyone who contributed to the slides was passionate about empowerment in its various forms. To achieve this we have to look for new and innovative business models that allow solutions to be sustainable. Mobile apps and social networking, either funded by advertising or some form of micro-payments, will drive the empowerment of individuals through better communication and engagement plus encouraging open Government.

5. Health – conversely was not something that was picked up by everyone but I believe is critical to the overall well-being of Africa. Mobiles can extend the reach and possibility of universal healthcare by improving the speed and quality of diagnostics and support to rural health workers.

You can view the full slidedeck on ‘Mobile trends to 2020 in Africa’ with all its various contributors at; http://www.slideshare.net/rudydw/mobile-trends-2020-africa

Next week I will share the final part of the DFID seminar when I will look at why Nimbus does what it does, and how it approaches challenges. I will share some background on why many ICT4D initiatives fail and a framework for successful M4D programme implementations.

Nimbus is an independent consultancy advising on the design and deployment of mobile and web technologies that enhance international development programmes. If you are challenged to make your programmes more effective or you wish to enable them to reach more people, call us now on 0330 330 9813 or e-mail me at peter@nimbus.mobi

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