Around three-quarters of the world’s inhabitants now have access to a mobile phone and the mobile communications story is moving to a new level, which is not so much about the phone but how it is used, says a new report released today by the World Bank and infoDev, its technology entrepreneurship and innovation program. The number of mobile subscriptions in use worldwide, both pre-paid and post-paid, has grown from fewer than 1 billion in 2000 to over 6 billion now, of which nearly 5 billion in developing countries. Ownership of multiple subscriptions is becoming increasingly common, suggesting that their number will soon exceed that of the human population.
According to Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximizing Mobile, more than 30 billion mobile applications, or “apps,” were downloaded in 2011 – software that extends the capabilities of phones, for instance to become mobile wallets, navigational aids or price comparison tools. In developing countries, citizens are increasingly using mobile phones to create new livelihoods and enhance their lifestyles, while governments are using them to improve service delivery and citizen feedback mechanisms.
This new report, the third in the World Bank’s series on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Development, analyzes the growth and evolution of mobile telephony, and the rise of data-based services, including apps, delivered to handheld devices. The report explores the consequences for development of the emerging “app economy”, especially in agriculture, health, financial services and government, and how it is changing approaches to entrepreneurship and employment.
“The mobile revolution is right at the start of its growth curve: mobile devices are becoming cheaper and more powerful while networks are doubling in bandwidth roughly every 18 months and expanding into rural areas,” said Tim Kelly, Lead ICT Policy Specialist at the World Bank and one of the authors of the report.
Countries around the world are taking advantage of this potential, for example:
- In India, the state of Kerala’s mGovernment program has deployed over 20 applications and facilitated more than 3 million interactions between the government and citizens since its launch in December 2010.
- Kenya has emerged as a leading player in mobile for development, largely due to the success of the M-PESA mobile payment ecosystem. Nairobi-based AkiraChix, for example, provides networking and training for women technologists.
- In Palestine, Souktel’s JobMatch service is helping young people find jobs. College graduates using the service reported a reduction in the time spent looking for employment from an average of twelve weeks to one week or less, and an increase in wages of up to 50 percent.