Our networked society: In numbers

Until recently, getting your hands on good mobile data was something of a challenge unless you had a couple of thousand dollars to throw at a market research company. Things suddenly got a lot better over the summer with the launch of the GSMA’s Mobile and Development Intelligence website (covered on my blog here). Now, Ericsson have picked up the baton and published one of the most comprehensive mobile/information society reports for some time.

The Ericsson Mobility Report provides up-to-date information on a range of indicators including mobile subscriptions, mobile penetration, breakdowns of adoption by technology, breakdown of traffic (voice vs. data) – with predicted growth for the next five years – and population coverage. There’s also interesting insights on speed, video and apps. To help visualise the data there are well over a dozen images and graphs throughout the report.

Mobile subscriptions by region (click for larger image)

Mobile penetration (click for larger image)

Summary table (click for larger image)

Ericsson have performed in-depth data traffic measurements since the early days of mobile broadband from a large base of live networks covering all regions of the world, and this rich source of information provided much of the data for the new report.

You can download the full Ericsson Mobility Report here (27 pages, PDF, 3Mb). Highlights are available on Slideshare, with a useful set of images and graphs made available on Flickr.

Social innovation and the art of reinvention

Big companies are on the move.

Within the next few weeks Microsoft will officially launch Windows 8. Their flagship operating system has undergone a complete redesign on a scale not seen since Windows 95. Myspace are going through a vigorous rebranding exercise ahead of a major relaunch. And Nokia are feeling the pain as they work through a huge shift in their approach to the smart phone market. Three different organisations. Three different challenges. One thing in common.

Windows 8 is Microsoft‘s response to the growing threat of the smartphone and tablet, two high-growth markets where they’re not yet major players.

Myspace are attempting a fight back for fourth time as their value and online membership continue to lose ground on the Facebook’s of this world.

And Nokia, like many device manufacturers, got totally caught out by the iPhone which did, in fact, change everything. As market leaders they had furthest to fall. The rest is history.

Three companies, three challenges, all responses to external market pressures. In a sense, you might argue that the ultimate destiny of these companies is no longer in their hands. Out of the three, Microsoft are best placed in that they’re responding at a time they’re still relatively dominant. It’s the opposite for Myspace and Nokia, who in reality are on the slide and attempting to fight back from much weaker positions. If either gets their new strategy wrong, it could be curtains.

Today, Apple are riding high and can do no wrong. But they’d be the first to admit that they’re in a precarious position – they, after all, have it all to lose. Despite the rhetoric, we’re yet to see a true iPhone killer, but there will be one. And Apple need to make sure it’s them who build it. Apple, in a sense, have to kill their own product if they’re to succeed in an increasingly competitive future.

This kind of “inward reinvention” is not so common in the ICT4D world. Solutions come and go, pilot projects come and go, some organisations even come and go. The vast majority of the changes we see are driven by one single external factor – technological innovation. Think of all the new projects and organisations that have come about as a result of the growth of smart phones in emerging markets. And think of all the new ones that will exist when tablet computers, or 4G, become ubiquitous.

Once they’re up-and-running, few ICT4D-focused organisations undergo radical changes in their approaches or technologies, instead focusing on incremental upgrades to policies and technologies. Some of those are voluntary, but many are forced by new entrants into the market, new technologies, or some kind of paradigm shift. It’s those that strike first – adapting their approaches and offerings before change is forced upon them – that will survive in an increasingly competitive world. And, yes – developing solutions to the world’s social and environmental ills is a competitive industry.

Although technology-focused non-profits don’t face the same problems as their commercial counterparts, this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t regularly rethink their strategy, their brand, their leadership or their technology solutions. If they’re to succeed in the longer term they need to be the ones in the driving seat, not the ones simply responding to external pressures or developments. ICT4D as a sector is still relatively new in the grand scheme of things, and as things hot up – as they will – increasing numbers of organisations will end up calling it a day. Fortune will favour the brave.

Many find themselves under pressure in a few key areas:

Increasing competition for funding. The number of technology-focused social enterprises is rising at a higher rate than available funding, putting a squeeze on donors. Social enterprises responding with hybrid models – allowing them to raise investment as well as donations – will stand a better chance in this brave new world, as will those who master the emerging crowd funding phenomenon.

The democratisation of development. As I wrote in a recent BBC Future article, the spread of the Internet and mobile phones means there are likely more people working on solving social and environmental problems in the world today than ever before in human history. There’s a lot of competition out there, and a lot is coming from garden sheds, bedrooms and kitchen tables.

The rise of local innovation hubs. For quite some time there’s been general agreement that the best people to solve developing world problems are people in the developing world. I’ve always maintained that the greater the distance between a problem and the problem solver, the less likely the chance of success. The rise of local innovation hubs around the world – Africa in particular – means that not only is that distance shrinking, it’s nurturing entirely new industries in developing countries.

An increasing focus on emerging markets from large companies. Non-profits have historically only had to compete with other non-profits, but that’s no longer the case. Designing (mobile) applications for the next billion, or the bottom of the pyramid, or the other 90% – whatever you choose to call it – is big business. IBM’s announcement earlier this month that their next research centre will be based in Nairobi – their first in Africa – is further proof. According to IBM, “We want to help train Africans to innovate in Africa. The best minds there should be working on big national problems and African problems”. Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Hewlett Packard and Samsung – among others – have set up shop there, too.

In a couple of months time I’ll be celebrating my tenth year in mobiles-for-development. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been there from almost the beginning, and I’ve seen first-hand the growth of the discipline and the impact of the technology on communities across Africa. The next ten years will present a whole new set of challenges for our sector, and if many ICT4D-focused organisations are going to survive they’re going to need to work very hard – and be very brave – to stay one step ahead of the game.

Something Myspace, Nokia (and Blackberry, come to think of it) – with all their resources – failed to do.

In numbers: A decade of mobile

January 2013 will be my ten year anniversary in “mobiles for development”. To say a lot has changed is something of an understatement. Back in those early pre-m4d-community days I would often get asked “Do they have mobile phone networks in Africa?”, or “How do people in Africa afford phones?”, or “Why are you wasting your time looking at the use of mobile phones in development?”.

Silly questions today, but not so silly back then, perhaps. Mobile phone ownership and penetration were largely in their infancy, and I only began looking at the conservation and development potential of this ’emerging’ technology thanks to the incredible vision of a team at Fauna & Flora International in Cambridge, UK. A year after we started work we’d not only developed a groundbreaking project – wildlive! – but pulled together what was likely the first comprehensive report on the development potential of mobile phones. With so little actual data to go on, most of our research was based on anecdotal evidence. Ironically, solid data – even ten years on – is still a little tricky to come by.

(The full report is available in the kiwanja Mobile Database here).

Over the past nine years the conversation – and the technology – have moved on considerably, and today few people would argue that mobiles have had a transformative effect in the developing world. Quite where things are headed is a little unclear, but infographics such as this two-pager from the World Bank can help remind us how far we’ve come, and how exciting this sector is to work in.

Click for a larger (readable) version of page one here and page two here.

I would say “Here’s to the next ten years”, but with the pace of change we’ve seen so far we’re probably best not looking that far ahead.

Caught on camera [phone]

They say a picture paints a thousand words, and that may be the case. But if they cost the earth or you don’t have permission to use them, they end up painting nothing much at all.

When my mobile ‘career’ kicked off in 2003 with multiple research trips to South Africa and Mozambique, I took the opportunity to start taking and collecting mobile- and technology-related photos. Back then people were beginning to take an interest in the impact of mobile phones on the African continent, and NGOs were looking to use photos on websites or in project proposals, newsletters and presentations. On top of that, people were just generally curious about what was going on.

kiwanja Mobile Gallery

That collection now stands at over 150 photos, and covers everything from people around the world texting or making calls to pictures of shops, signs, mobiles themselves and other interesting examples of mobile entrepreneurship in action. The images are free to use – with citation – by non-profits or any other organisation seeking to profile the social impact of mobile technology. Visit the kiwanja Mobile Gallery for the full gallery of images, and for details on how to credit their use.