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Betting On The Next Billion: "Voices In Your Hand"
Jeremy Faludi, 17 Oct 05


Regular readers here know all about how corporations reaching out to the "next billion" customers has a huge future, whether you're a humanitarian trying to help the developing world, or a company whose first-world technology markets are already saturated. Why do some investors get it, and others don't?

A Yahoo News article describes how easy it is for financiers to underestimate: "The mistake, providers say, was to make plans based on GDP figures, which ignore the strong informal economy, and to assume that because land line use was low, little demand for phones existed." As it turns out, the low demand for land-lines was because quality/service was so awful, not because they weren't wanted. Cellular companies that did take the plunge have been richly rewarded: "Cell phone subscriptions jumped 67 percent south of the Sahara in 2004, compared with 10 percent in cell-phone-saturated Western Europe." The article also describes how cell phones have improved the lives and businesses of Africans, with one of the examples I've seen: "Wilson Kuria Macharia, head of the traders' association at the Nairobi market, says he no longer has to spend two to four weeks at a time roaming across Kenya and Tanzania in search of fresh produce. 'A few mobile phone calls take care of what used to be the most grueling part of the business.' "

Some companies get it, like Philips...

Their Voices In Your Hand project was started three years ago, a humanitarian-and-capitalist effort to not just make existing technology cheaper or more accessible, but to start from the ground up and invent a cheap handheld internet/phone designed to fit the needs of some of the poorest people in the world. The project is now in a field-testing phase in the favela of Recife, Brazil, and they have been smart enough to let the testing results take them in a direction they did not initially anticipate. It appears that real-time connectivity is not the biggest issue, so devices which are essentially modified mp3 players you occasionally connect to the web in telecenters to send and receive voice and text messages are good enough (and much cheaper than cell phones).

This allows a leapfrogging many people haven't thought about before: it's not just the leap over landlines to handsets, it's the leap over paper mail, which doesn't work for you if you're illiterate or don't have an address because you live in a shantytown; many in Brazil's favelas are both. It also allows low-cost local broadcasting/narrowcasting of health & community information or local musicians. With this, and some of Africa's repurposing of cell phones, it will be interesting to see what products developed specifically for the "bottom of the pyramid" will be like.

(thanks, Lorenzo Rademakers, for the Yahoo spotting.)

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I saw this the other day.. I thought it fit into your "next billion" concept.

There are now 2 Billion Cellphone Users Worldwide !!

Posted by: Joe Deely on 17 Oct 05



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