by Ruth Aine - 15 February 2014
This month is about the biggest game changers of our time. One of them is technology. Some have said education and innovation are key and others say that about communication. The opinions are varied and that is to be expected. I am taking part in a conference called Mobile East Africa and its focus is expanding mobile data usage and driving monetisation through industry collaboration. Key to this conference conversation is about what is the future of mobile. And because mobile is part of technology: it ties into this month’s theme.
According to Tomi T Ahonen, who is a leading consultant in mobile worldwide, mobile is the way to go. But it has not always been that way especially for Africa. The climb in mobile started in 2007 and as of 2012, the global population had more access to mobile phones than to sanitation and water. The mobile media global market grows at a massive 17% rate per year. Strategy analytics reports that for year 2012, mobile media was worth $149.8 Billion. And we are all addicted. According to the Guardian, smart phone holders look at their phones up to 200 times per day.
But what does that mean for our continent?
Tomi Ahnonen says that Africa needs to focus on SMS and USSD. Now if you are like me, you must be thinking: Hullloooo: are we not going to embrace the 21st century and go all 'smart phone'? 80% of all the mobile users in Africa are still using 'cheap' phones or is it feature phones as some call them. They are the kind that have limited or no access to the internet. If they do have internet connectivity, they mainly run JAVA applications. Question is: do we embrace the 80% and work with those or do we continue to develop technology for the 20% and work harder to get smart phones cheaper and more accessible? The latter is going to take a while, revolutions do not happen overnight. It is a process. The process includes educating the masses, increasing the country's GDP, so that the economy will allow everyone to be able to afford a smart phone whether or not it is expensive. So what seems logical: create and have technology that uses USSD and SMS? [USSD is a protocol used by GSM cellular telephones to communicate with the service provider's computers. USSD stands for Unstructured Supplementary Services Data].
This looks and seems so backward. It looks like we are going back 20 years in time. Research has also showed that in the other continents, SMS is doing very well in comparison to email for example. 97% of UK SMS text messages are read within 5 seconds (Source: Ofcom) vs 48 hours for email. Great British Mobile Marketing Report 2012 finds: 97% of SMS messages sent are read, vs 20% of emails (Source: Digital Marketing Association). Is that not evidence enough? Look at the huge youth bulge in Africa. The youth actually use a lot more SMS than they do data. Of the 2,000 smart phone owners in the UK & USA they found that amongst the 18-35 year age group: SMS text messaging is used by 94%. Dedicated messaging apps like Skype and Twitter are used only by 19% of this age group (Source: Acision survey Psychology of SMS18 July 2012).
Mobile is the 7th medium, it comes after print, recordings, cinema, radio, TV and internet. Research shows that it a very important part of many countries’ economies. For example Kenya. Did you know that m-Banking contributes 48% of Kenya’s GDP. This is how: M-Pesa by Safaricom is now 6 years old, with 15M users. Rival Airtel (ex Zain) has 3M users. The Kenyan population is 40Million and 69% of adults have a m-Banking account. This is 2.2 times more than 'real' bank accounts. M-Pesa and Airtel have 75,000 merchants. The Central Bank of Kenya says average transactions now account to 32 billion USD and by 2012, the total mobile transactions in Kenya were worth 16.2Billion USD. Kenya's GDP is 33.6Billion USD. That means that as of 2012 48% of Kenya’s GDP was running via mobile. (Sources: Business Day 22 Mar 2012, Africa News 21 Jan 2013). Important to note is that M-Pesa and all mobile money accounts are run on SMS and USSD.
So, this is why mobile is the future driver of innovation, communication, and technology. This is taking a while to sink in for me as well. How about you? Do you agree?