Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mobile Phones as Leap-Tech for Developing Nations

It's hardly news that adding technology to a developing country's infra-structure boosts its economy, but stating an exact boost for a particular items is informative. From The Economist:
"An extra ten mobile phones per 100 people in a typical developing country boosts GDP growth by 0.8 percentage points, according to the World Bank, by helping small entrepreneurs flourish."[1]
The importance of the mobile phone as a communication device is well known, but as mobile computing and mobile phone technologies fully merge, I believe that the GDP growth by countries which leverage such "leap tech" will become even more amplified. Imagine if mobile phone users in such countries were instead issued iPhones. Even if such countries don't (yet) have the bandwidth to use all of the internet features efficiently, just the presence of a mobile computing device that allows its users to download very cheap applications would have broad impact on individual entrepreneurs, and hence on the economy overall.

Also, developing nations sometimes lack a reliable or fully expanded power-grid infrastructure. Power is often generated by fuel, which supply can be iffy due to such common contingencies as localized wars and weather disasters. But the low-power requirements of devices like mobile phones and mobile computers gets around this problem, since they can be recharged by fairly cheap, reasonably efficient solar charging devices.

Finally, it is possible to determine and analyze how people move around by examining mobile phone usage. Different social groups within a country interact in different ways. Traffic and disease patterns could also be easily tracked, since governments can note such usage and report on it much more efficiently, where before the presence of these devices such information would have been practically impossible to collect. Properly data-mined, the millions of mobile phones in developing nations can function as ad hoc sensors for national data-collection networks.

Mobile devices quickly come down in price and are easily introduced into developing nations. Thus, these nations will have a much shorter path to development than would have been otherwise expected just a few years ago.


[1] "Fish Out of Water" The Economist Oct. 29, 2009

[*] The trend is their friend, and ours, since commerce most benefits when everyone can participate:


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