The mobile phone is becoming a key device used in the contexts of most ICT4D approaches . But, so far, it could only be partially used to access web2.0 tools as this application would necessarily need its more sophisticated smart phone alter ego. What is the likelihood that an increasing number of people will soon have access to the Internet via their mobile phones? What role can the mobile phone play to leverage the shift to web2fordev? The latest statistics challenge us to rethink web2fordev.
The wide dissemination of mobile phones embodies the potential that an increasing number of people would soon be in the position to access the web through their phones. No doubt the high prices alone and the low-cost models without Internet access are still one of the many obstacles, but who could imagine five years ago that 45-50% of traffic to the BBC's mobile sport and news sites would come from African countries? This is one of many fascinating insights I picked up from the recent Mobile Web Africa conference over Twitter.
Here are some further interesting statistics and trends around mobile web usage in Africa from the conference tweets:
- The recently launched Google/Grameen/MTN SMS service in Uganda for agriculture received over a million queries in the first few weeks, although the service charges premium SMS rates. The service offers answers out of search results from specific databases via SMS.
- Google mobile traffic has increased 5 fold since 2007 in Africa. Google search results on mobiles in Africa are the highest in Nigeria, followed by Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and Cote d'Ivoire
- It is estimated that South Africa will have 10.1 million mobile web users by the end of 2009. The popular mobile social network application MXit has already over 5 million users in South Africa.
A recent International Telecommunication Union ITU study has identified one of the biggest challenges for web2fordev especially in Africa. The costs of ICT in Africa are 40 times higher than in Europe: “The relative price for ICT services is highest in Africa, the region with the lowest income levels.” Still Steve Song writes that households in Kenya are willing to spend up to 50% of their income for communication costs (mobile phones).
Alex Twinomugisha sees, despite the challenges, a promising change: “While Internet access on the mobile phones is still constrained to the higher-end handsets that are still too expensive for the majority of mobile phone users in Africa, there are encouraging signs that things are changing. Handset makers like Nokia have begun making their low end mobile phones data-capable and cheap Chinese and Taiwanese phones come data-ready. Interestingly, Google is increasingly becoming a major player in this field.”
Tino Kreutzer undertook an interesting research in South Africa titled “Generation Mobile: Online and Digital Media Usage on Mobile Phones among Low-Income Urban Youth in South Africa”. He found out that mobile Internet usage by low income South African youth increases, despite the constraints of costs, youth are eager to access the Internet through their mobile phones.
But the mobile web use and experience will be different. Many web2.0 application cannot easily run on mobile phones such as various online applications due to the limit of the small screen. The high cost for data access is just another constraint for the mobile web. But web2fordev might take very different approaches and this can already be seen in various fascinating examples:
- Social network applications are developed right for the mobile phone such as Sembuse. Felix Kitaka, a programmer from Appfrica, has developed a mobile application to access Facebook. Social networks are often for entertainment, but they also open new channels for cooperation not previously offered.
- Twitter is another example of how people can participate with or without Internet connection (SMS). Twitter has become also a large phenomenon in the global south with growing participation. For example the ICT4D community has grown a lot lately with many opportunities for exchange.
- Google Earth has recently announced two non-profit events in Kampala and Nairobi to train organizations in the use of mapping tools. Another initiative tries to map the biggest urban slum in Africa – Kibera in Kenya. Mobile web application are already in development as this example in Kenya shows.
Author: Christian Kreutz