The growth of smart mobile tech in emerging economies
A particular feature of the emergence of smartphone technology has been its penetration in emerging markets around the world, creating opportunities in economies that have previously been marginalized in terms of growth opportunities.
If you look at the figures, you will see startling growth in smartphone usage in developing countries. Research into internet and smartphone penetration in emerging economies carried out by the Pew Research Center shows that the median smartphone ownership rate in emerging and developing countries increased from 21 percent to 37 percent in just two years, 2013 to 2015. Smartphone and internet usage is driving opportunities for new businesses in emerging countries, owing to the unique opportunity that digital and mobile technology represents in terms of facilitating economic growth in areas previously hampered by poor communications infrastructure. If you think about it, effective communications in the past meant, to a great extent, fixed telephone lines, which left remote and underdeveloped regions cut off. Mobile technology investment is in and of itself more affordable, meaning that the barriers to entry are lower for businesses relying on effective communications to get up and running.
If you look at levels of smartphone penetration in emerging economies, one country that stands out is China. Projections by eMarketer on Chinese smartphone penetration suggest that almost half, or 49.8 percent, of China’s population will be in possession of a smartphone by 2019. Such growth projections would also suggest that the Chinese market is reaching saturation point in terms of smartphone usage. If you look at the Indian market, it is much healthier in terms of potential growth. In India, and right across the Asia-Pacific region, the growth in the number of devices manufactured for low cost and the decrease in the cost of service plans is leading to a greater uptake in smartphone usage, just as these factors once did in Western markets.
You would be correct to assume that mobile phone usage in developing countries follows similar patterns to usage in Western countries, with a heavy emphasis on text messaging and, where available, mobile internet. However, that is to overlook the interesting spinoffs from mobile technology penetration in such parts of the world as Africa, where the use of cashless payment systems, allowing people working far from home to send money to their family, has evolved to include payment platforms via mobile devices. Such developments emphasize the truly revolutionary nature of mobile technology and the various uses it can be put to, economically speaking.
The revolutionary aspect of mobile technology is reflected in attitudes among those users of mobile tech in developing countries, who view internet access, in particular, as an opportunity for personal advancement and education. In contrast, in the West, internet and smartphone access is seen as something that is more for personal convenience than anything else, with economic development being something that is largely taken for granted.
There are some countries that do lag behind in internet and smartphone usage, and these would include poorer countries in Asia and Africa. You would be correct in thinking that there is an obvious correlation between per capita income and internet and smartphone usage, but as education levels in developing countries rise, the likelihood is that technology usage will rise also. Those with higher education and income levels are found to be more likely to use the internet and own a smartphone. Of course, even in the less-developed parts of the world, there are individuals and organizations striving to improve not only their own lot but also those of the people around them.
Ehsan Bayat is an example of someone building on the opportunities afforded by mobile technology to create economic growth. He partnered with the Afghan Government in 2002 to establish Afghan Wireless Communication Company, a venture that has become one of the leading internet and mobile phone providers in the country. Afghanistan has often been subject to a bad press, owing to the presence of conflict and political unrest in the country, but the efforts of business people such as Ehsan Bayat demonstrate that it is not all bad news in this part of the world and that with a little vision, economic growth is possible. Indeed, Bayat’s Ariana Radio and Television Network was set up in 2005 with the specific purpose of communicating with people the political and economic progress of Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban regime.
You can be certain that as communication infrastructure continues to improve in emerging economies, there will be organizations and entrepreneurs eager to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by smartphone technology.