Mobile Communications in Developing Countries

The Centre for Communication, Media and Information technologies (CMI) organized the 7th “Conference on Mobile Communications in Developing Countries”. This event was a great opportunity to examine issues regarding the development of mobile ICT, and share different points of view about the use of mobile communications for economic, social and human development. Through different presentations and discussions, the audience could approach to an understanding of the challenges and opportunities developing countries offer to different actors in the ICT sector, including researchers, regulators and mobile operators.

It is clear that in modern world ICT is the essential infrastructure without which our economy cannot function. ICT is already a significant part of the developing world’s economy. Connectivity — whether the Internet or mobile phones — is increasingly bringing market information, financial services, and health services — to remote areas, helping to increase people’s living standard in unprecedented ways. New technologies are enormously changing the conventional way of corporate business, public service delivery, information accessibility and overall countries GDP growth.

One relevant aspect discussed in the conference was that majority of the new ICT consumer in the next years will come from developing countries. Although, developing countries are considered a market at full-growth pace, the matter of fact is that the region’s adoption of technology is, in general, much slower than in the rest of the world. Most of these potential live on rural areas, which means that the ICT platform is reaching population with low levels of income and literacy. The challenge is to generate solutions that on expand the coverage of the ICT infrastructure and benefits while generating business models adapted to the economic conditions of the population in the developing markets.

In that sense, our input as Techno-Economic Team at CoS department was to present an initial diagnosis of the ICT market in Latin America and South Asia. Our analysis was focused on the M2M communications and its potential to impact the social development in the considered markets. With my colleague Istiak Hossain, we had the chance of presenting our paper “M2M communications in developing countries”. We identified how M2M sector is an increasingly important source of connections growth for mobile operators worldwide.

Nowadays, operators are looking at M2M as a new business alternative to reduce the impact of the slowing growth (or declines) in traditional consumer mobile services. As a result, many operators are adapting their organizational structures and business models exploring opportunities to expand their portfolio to emerging markets in developing countries. Presented information remarked the potential of the considered markets to boost the growth of M2M solutions worldwide. Finally, we showed some specific requirements for M2M business models for developing countries and a description of the technical challenges to be considered at the moment of investing in M2M solutions for developing countries.

Even though Latin American and South Asian markets have shown a relatively slow adoption of new M2M services and applications compared to some other regions, this trend will change, as the M2M solutions will increase its penetration in different areas. This scenario, combined with the trend to accelerate the 4G deployments in the region, will bring the potential to develop new business models for traditional network operators, while new players emerge and compete to attract new customers.

It is important to consider that challenges that Latin American and South Asian M2M markets face depend on the type of target population. Zones with large rural mobile market actors will confront difficulties providing access to basic infrastructure and services such as electricity, education, healthcare and banking. In contrast, urban areas face challenges in terms of dealing with issues around congestion, the efficient provision of public services and the need to manage the environmental impact of rapidly growing urban populations.

With increasing penetration rates and new network deployments there is the potential for much greater impact in the future. New mobile services and applications can make important contributions in areas such as sustainable growth, health, education and access to financial services. As the mobile ecosystem evolves, the door is open to innovative and socially relevant business models that go far beyond communications and into the provisions of essential services such as energy and healthcare.

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