Expanding the Mobile Apps Market: Making Mobile Work at the Base of the Pyramid

Arne Hoel/The World Bank

The diagram of a horizontally sliced triangle, with its wide base and pointy tip, has been used to represent socio-economic data for decades. The lowest and largest portion represents the poorest and most populous segment of society – living “at the bottom of the pyramid.” In the context of mobile innovation, we prefer the alternate term, “base of the pyramid,” which is closer to signifying the foundational, fundamental role of this demographic group in the health of an economy.

Regardless of semantics, the phrase has been widely used by researchers to consider the effects of various phenomena on this group of people (see select references related to digital entrepreneurship here). While many of these studies have produced insights for the development community, few have contributed practical knowledge for the entrepreneurs who live among and serve this critical group.

In 2012, infoDev commissioned country case studies on the use of mobile devices (then still mostly simple phones) at the base of the pyramid in Kenya and South Africa, with funding from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and DFID (UK). Relying in part on a diary methodology and household surveys, the team was able to collect a rich set of qualitative and quantitative data to describe how mobile technologies were being used by the poor in their daily lives, as well as recording a series of videos with users.

They showed, for instance, that users in Kenya were willing to forego basic necessities such as food, transport or toiletries to pay for mobile credit in the knowledge that this would give them better opportunities to find work. In other words, we found that mobile phones are highly valued by and influential in the lives of people at the “base of the pyramid,” and decided to deepen our knowledge further in a way that would benefit entrepreneurs who create applications that serve this population.

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Technological Leapfrogging in Agriculture

“To harness the globally available technologies, African leaders will need to take into account the multisectoral dimension of African agriculture and pay particular attention to the urgency of investing in rural infrastructure, higher agricultural training and creation of regional markets.”

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What are the emerging markets for mobile payments in EA

Emerging markets, those nations who have a physical financial infrastructure including banks, a stock exchange and a unified currency and whose economy is progressing, offer lucrative opportunities for mobile payments. Especially in East Africa, where mobile payments have gained unparalleled traction for businesses that offer travel bookings, online purchasing, loan payments, or even for consumers who send money to friends and family, emerging markets offer a blue ocean market that begs to be tapped.

There are several reasons why mobile payments and the emerging markets of East Africa are a well-suited match:

  1. Mobile Penetration: Over 70% of Africans have mobile phones.
  2. Bank Underavailability: Brick and mortar banks are inaccessible to most of the African population.
  3. Convenience for Consumers: For payments, transfers, and other banking needs, consumers can easily take advantage of the technology that is always with them: their mobile phones.
  4. Opportune for Businesses: For businesses, setup is quick and easy, they can accept payment away from their primary place of business, and conversion rates are five times higher than credit card transactions.
  5. Heightened Security: mobile payments in East Africa have security functionalities that provide authentication capabilities and passwords and GPS functionality add layers of security that are not present in standard payment processing options.

Leading East African Emerging Markets

According to Forbes’ “Africa’s Emerging Market Boom,” Africa is currently home to five of the world’s fastest growing economies. Considering that mobile payments were first launched in East Africa around 2008, the growth they show in these emerging markets is tremendous:

Tanzania is home to 48.5 million people. In this nation, there are 31.8 million registered mobile money accounts. In one month (September 2013), the total value of mobile money transactions was 2.8 trillion Tanzanian Shillings (which converts to roughly 1.6 Billion US Dollars).

Kenya leads the world in mobile payments with over two-thirds of the adult population there now using their phones to pay for goods and services. 25% of the country’s GNP flows through mobile money systems like M-PESA.

Uganda has a competitive mobile telecommunications landscape. But, with less than 20% of its population holding a traditional bank account or internet connection, mobile payments, mobile money transfer, and mobile banking are a way of life.

Rwanda is demonstrating a robust national economy, with a GDP that has maintained an annual growth of 7 – 8% since 2008 and increased penetration particularly evident in the internet and mobile sectors. As of March 2014, the mobile market penetration rate in Rwanda is 65%.

Mobile Payments in East Africa: The Future

In recent years, African countries have recorded some of the highest economic growth figures in the world, and for them, the technology of the future creates openings for success in realms like mobile payments. Africa is gaining global prominence for disruptive innovation within a number of fields, most of which center around mobile connectivity.

In January, Kenya’s President, Mwai Kibaki, launched an ambitious USD 9 billion technopolis described as “Africa’s Silicon Savannah,” and immediately three international mobile-handset manufacturers had expressed interest in moving their chip-making businesses there. IBM Research has set up its first African science and technology lab in Nairobi.

East Africa’s best and brightest minds are preparing themselves for the surge in growth, in devices, in internet and mobile penetration and the demand for local content and solutions.

The market is ripe for mobile payment solutions that offer efficiency for the emerging markets of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and all of East Africa.


Eran Feinstein is the founder of 3G Direct Pay Limited – a provider of global e-commerce and online payments solutions for the travel and related industries  He is a leading authority in the fields of online payments, e-commerce and travel, having acquired extensive experience from various parts of the world.

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An African LTE Mobile Network Future


This entry is part 4 of 6 in my series Africa and Spectrum 2.0

If you follow communication infrastructure in Africa, you would be forgiven if you have begun to think of LTE as the promised land. There is no doubt that nobile networks have transformed access on the continent. Now, we are apparently just waiting for the roll-out of LTE to complete the revolution and provide high-speed broadband to all. This article looks at how LTE is evolving on the continent from the perspective of spectrum and device manufacturing.

LTE Spectrum

In the early days of mobile, spectrum was pretty simple. Your GSM mobile phone usually supported 2 different bands, 900MHz and 1800MHz for Region 1 which covers Europe and Africa or 850MHz and 1900MHz for North and South America which is Region 2. There’s also Region 3 which covers Asia but this is complicated enough for now. The next type of phone to be seen was the tri-band and quad-band phone that embraced the global traveller allowing them to operate on mobile networks in both Region 1 and Region 2. Anyone remember the Nokia 6310i?

Then came 3G mobile services which introduced new spectrum bands, 2100MHz in Africa and a number of different spectrum bands in North America. At that point Nokia was still the dominant manufacturer and had a huge range of phones aimed at different markets. Mobile phones tended to be very tied to national operators.

With the introduction of the Apple iPhone and what we now know as smartphones, things got more complicated. Because popular smartphones are global brands, manufacturers like Apple want to sell just one phone but were actually forced to manufacture two or more different models in order to be compatible with the spectrum regimes in different regions. The original Google smartphone, the Nexus One, came in two different versions. The version I bought works as a phone in both Africa and North America but I only get 3G in Africa because it isn’t designed for North American 3G frequencies.


And now LTE. The standards body for LTE, the 3GPP, have defined over 40 unique spectrum bands for LTE. Currently the most advanced smartphones in the world like the iPhone 5s or the Samsung Galaxy S4 can support a subset of those bands.

Apple have five different versions of the iPhone 5s for sale globally that support different combinations of spectrum bands and technologies. The iPhone has arguably the widest support for LTE with about ten different bands supported compared to about five bands supported by the Galaxy S4. In both cases we are talking about US$800 phones. The challenge of producing an affordable, flexible LTE mobile phone for Africa has a long way to go.

LTE in Africa in 2014

Currently there are nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa that where LTE networks have been launched, a total of eighteen operators in total. Here’s how it breaks down.

Company Frequency Launch Date
Unitel 2100MHz (Band 1) Dec 2012
Movicel 1800MHz (Band 3) Apr 2012
Orange Mauritius 1800MHz (Band 3) Jun 2012
Emtel 1800MHz (Band 3) May 2012
MTC 1800MHz (Band 3) May 2012
TN Mobile 1800MHz (Band 3) Nov 2013
Smile Telecom 800MHz (Band 20) Mar 2013
Spectranet 2300MHz (Band 40) Aug 2013
South Africa
MTN 1800MHz (Band 3) Dec 2012
Vodacom 1800MHz (Band 3) Oct 2012
Neotel 1800MHz (Band 3) Aug 2013
Telkom / 8ta 2300MHz (Band 40) Apr 2013
Smile Telecom 800MHz (Band 20) Aug 2012
Smile Telecom 800MHz (Band 20) June 2013
MTN Uganda 2600MHz (Band 38) Apr 2013
Orange Uganda 800MHz (Band 20) Jul 2013
MTN 1800MHz (Band 3)? Jan 2014
Econet 1800MHz (Band 3) Aug 2013

Source: 4G Americas Global Deployment Status – Updated January 10, 2014

The first thing to know about the above is that none of these LTE networks are carrying voice traffic. Voice over LTE or VoLTE, the emerging LTE standard for voice communication, has not been deployed anywhere in Africa. This means that even networks that are offering LTE smartphones are still using GSM or 3G circuit-switched networks to carry voice traffic. The move to VoLTE will be a big technical leap when it happens as LTE is the first generation of mobile connectivity to be entirely based on Internet protocols. Managing voice and data on the same network may present interesting new challenges for voice quality.

Movicel in Angola was one of the first LTE networks to launch in Africa. With Movicel, an LTE dongle will cost you about US$370 and they claim download speeds of up to 100Mbps. The iPhone 5s is available too and that will set you back US$1500. This is a service clearly aimed at elites, for the time being.

Some LTE networks are aimed exclusively at data users. Smile Telecom, who have networks in Tanzania, Uganda, and Nigeria, offer a data only service. The reason for this is largely historical as Smile attempted to launch WiMax networks in Uganda and Tanzania and learned a painful lesson about the importance of having a manufacturing ecosystem around the network devices. The WiMax mobile handset never took off and as a result neither did Smile’s networks.

They must have deep pockets though as they have been able to leverage their existing investments in 800MHz spectrum to launch brand new LTE networks in each country. They are staying away from handsets this time though and offering data services through dongles. For more depth, Telecom.com have an excellent profile of Smile and their LTE strategy.

New Spectrum

For the time being, most African operators are recycling their existing spectrum for new LTE services. It speaks to how much spectrum most of the big operators have that they can afford to do this and still maintain 2G and 3G networks. There is a big push for new spectrum to be made available for LTE though especially in the 700MHz and 800MHz bands. This will bring new opportunities and new challenges. A brand new iPhone 5s that works on any of the brand new LTE networks above, won’t work on 700MHz spectrum. Manufacturers will be increasingly challenged to develop phones that suit different regions as countries prioritize different ranges of spectrum for release.

Manufacturers are likely to have time to work on this however as releasing what is now hyper-valued spectrum in a manner that encourages a competitive environment is proving to be a challenge. The ongoing 700MHz auction in Canada is a good example of this. As governments strive to encourage new competition, existing operators are likely to push for a hands-off approach which favours the incumbents. This tension might well lead to further delays in the release of spectrum.

How Africa’s LTE Future Might Be Different

Unless a multi-band, affordable LTE smartphone appears on the horizon, LTE phones are going to be irrelevant to the vast majority of people on the continent. However, the potential for LTE data is huge. Data dongles, which are much more affordable (about ~US$ 70), can be used to backhaul data to a community and serve a variety of consumers. This is what makes WiFi such an important complementary technology as WiFi-enabled phones and tablets tethered to an LTE-powered hotspot are a much higher high-value proposition than a single smartphone.

A challenge remains in the economics of bringing LTE to sparsely populated rural areas but what hopefully we are beginning to see now is the emergence of a much more interesting and potentially resilient ecosystem of communication access where a variety of technologies can serve the last mile: LTE, WiFi, whitespaces, and inevitably some things we haven’t imagined yet.

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How to Ensure Long-Term Sustainability for a Computer Lab

Thanks to funding from the Internet Society Community Grant Program as well as from the Information Society Innovation Fund (isif.asia) a computer learning lab has been established at the Chuuk Women’s Council!

Our goal in establishing a computer lab in the Chuuk Women’s Council (CWC) is with the aim of empowering and connecting, with ICT, the women of Chuuk State, in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The Chuuk Women’s Council is an established umbrella organization for the different women’s organizations across Chuuk State, which promotes women’s leadership, education on health and gender issues, environmental conservation, practical skills-building for employment opportunities, and the preservation of traditional and cultural crafts. Given the existing strengths of the center and the breadth of the programs already on offer, we believe that the technology of this computer lab will serve to complement and enable this organization that is already extremely successful in its non-technical endeavors.

In planning the computer lab, we looked at five key ways to assure long-term sustainability:

  1. Computer Hardware (Rugged, Portable, Low Energy Usage, Good Performance & a Webcam)
  2. Software (Office Software, Typing Aid, Basic ICT Skill Modules, & Virus Protection)
  3. Internet Access (WiFi, Bandwidth)
  4. Training (Basic ICT, Email, Web Searching, Office Software)
  5. Support and Maintenance (Shares, Onsite, Software/Hardware Repair  & Remote Troubleshooting)

With our solution requirements and guidelines, a plan was developed and agreed upon with project partners.

It is our hope and intent that this computer lab at the Council’s facility, accompanied by trainings in how to make use of the technology and the Internet, will greatly enhance the existing CWC offerings and will empower Chuuk’s women to use ICT’s communications and information capabilities to enhance their own quality of life and improve their own communities.

The CWC has an existing room within their facilities designated to serve as the computer lab: where the sewing classes currently take place!

Thanks to the mobility of the laptops comprising the lab, they will be able to utilize the room as a sewing room in the mornings, and as a computer lab in the afternoons, with the added bonus that the sewing machine bases can very conveniently serve as “desks” for the laptops. Alternatively, the laptops can easily be brought to any room within the CWC to be used for training, education, or any ICT skill based needs that will help the staff accomplish their tasks.


We started on-the-ground in Chuuk by preparing the laptops at iSolutions, Chuuk’s only cyber-café and computer repair center, as well as a company co-founded and directed by project partner TR Mori. Many of the iSolutions staff helped out with standardizing the programs (listed below) loaded on the laptops, password-protecting them, and installing Reboot Restore RX on each of them for virus protection/removal upon reboot.

We selected Intel Classmate Laptops for the lab, because they are quite energy efficient (important on any small island!), have a speedy processor and long battery life, and are wrapped in a ruggedized and durable housing—not an insignificant point, given that they will be moved each day to create the computer lab/return to a sewing room.


The programs/features installed included:

  • Windows 7 OS
  • Web Browsers (Chrome and Internet Explorer)
  • Office Suite Software (Open Office)
  • Communications Software (Skype)
  • Rapid Typing
  • Multi Media (webcam software and a multimedia video player)
  • PDF viewer
  • GCF Learn Free
  • MicSem Videos

Once the laptops were ready, we headed over to the CWC for a meeting with the staff, to talk with them and inquire what they had in mind for the computer lab. They were all quite interested in the technology, and were eager to improve their own computer skills.

We asked them what they hoped to be able to do with the computers, as well as spoke about the possibilities for the women who live in more remote locations to be able to use the technology. They expressed that because of the strong person-to-person networks they already have in place, any local chapter of the CWC, from one of the Lagoon Islands for example, could request a training session to take place. They believed this would prove very popular.


In the meantime, we got started on helping them develop their own computer skills that afternoon. They eagerly jumped in, using the Rapid Typing program, listening to music, using the video camera, and trying out Open Office.

We returned the next day, set up the lab, connected the laptops to the Internet, and held our first training session in the brand new CWC computer lab. Since our “students” had already used the laptops the day before, they were not timid to try anything.

Since we had Internet connectivity today, we surfed to the web, and the two women who didn’t yet have email addresses were already attempting to use Facebook (where they soon discovered they’d need to obtain email addresses in short order)! We tried out the Rapid Typing program again, and then it was time for some multi-media: We watched some videos from MicSem and GCF Free Learn—which proved to be very popular and entertaining.

Laura Hosman with Kiki Stinnett, President of the Chuuk Women’s Council

When I said goodbye to them, they all called out goodbye back, but they hardly even looked up as our team left, they were so engrossed in using the laptops, and certainly not ready to stop after a few hours! That was fantastic.

We are working on editing a video that we made about this experience, so watch for the video to be posted. We also anticipate a return visit in November of this year and to reporting back on how and for what the learning lab is being used. In the meantime, we also looking forward to hearing more about developments at the CWC’s computer lab in real time; how the staff are using the laptops/lab, when the training sessions for community members will start, and even more exciting developments I couldn’t possibly predict!

Written by Dr. Laura Hosman, assistant professor at Illinois Institute of Technology. Read her blog here. Reprinted with permission.

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Technology that gets under your skin


Editor’s note: we’re running a series of five excerpts from our forthcoming book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a compilation of works by industry experts in areas of user experience design related to genomics, robotics, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

In this excerpt, author Andy Goodman, group director at Fjord Madrid, looks beyond wearable computing to a deeper, more personal emerging computing technology: embeddables. Goodman says that beyond wearables and implants lies a future symbiosis of human and machine that will transform not only the delivery of information and services, but human nature as well.

Andy_GoodmanAndy_GoodmanAuthor Andy Goodman, group director at Fjord Madrid.

Wearables are yesterday’s news; tomorrow’s news will be all about embeddables, tiny computing devices implanted inside your body that monitor your health, improve your functioning, and connect you to the digital world.

There is currently a lot of buzz in technology and design circles about wearables, living services, the Internet of Things, and smart materials. As designers working in these realms, we’ve begun to think about even more transformative things, envisioning a future where evolved technology is embedded inside our digestive tracts, sense organs, blood vessels, and even our cells. Everyday objects will become responsive and predictive, connecting us to the data sphere and reducing the distance between our skin and the surfaces of the made world. What we see further out, beyond the realm of wearables and implants, is the future symbiosis of the human body and the machine.

Four converging technologies are going to radically transform our interaction with the world: genetics, robotics, information delivery, and nanotechnology. With a few exceptions, such as pacemakers and artificial hips, technology has always been one distance removed from our bodies and brains. Not for much longer. The interface between the made world and us is going to become almost invisible. The monolithic device with a screen may be on the verge of disappearing: it is being enhanced with numerous smaller devices, which may soon replace it as the way to access information. We will arrive at a more ambient experience, where sensors capture information about us and feed that information into systems quietly working away in the background. Wearables will give way to “embeddables,” nano-scale machinery inside our bodies that can monitor us and modify us.

These systems will act as mental and sensory prosthetics, exponentially increasing our knowledge, perception, and manipulation of the world around us. The early uses we are seeing in domains such as health care and fitness will extend further to virtually any domain we can think of. Communications, entertainment, socialising, learning, work, self-actuation — any human activity we can think of — is going to be modified and amplified with an invisible mesh of data and processing that we will drift through, mostly obliviously.

Embeddables are not just going to be a revolution in functionality, but will dramatically alter how people fit into society, affect human psychology, and even propel us toward intellectual or spiritual transcendence.

Just looking at visual experience and sensing, we can see how this could come about. Imagine being able to perceive different light frequencies, the world in microscopic detail, or far distant objects in the universe. This would have a profound effect on our understanding of reality and our place in it.

Before we can start dreaming about the evolutionary acceleration that might be granted by these technologies, we have to come back down to earth for a while. There are many practical barriers that need to be considered. Embeddables will be sitting so close to us that the right balance between unobtrusiveness and affordance will have to be found. Systems that can predict and even meet our needs without us having to intervene will be the ones that resonate and find an audience.

We can already see with the rather too rapid backlash against Google Glass that people are very particular about what they put onto their bodies and how “social deviance” could become a big barrier to adoption. Parodies of people wearing Google Glass on shows like Saturday Night Live and the fact that the New Yorker has dubbed early adopters “Glassholes” shows exactly the problem with wearable tech. It can open us up to ridicule. The designs of future wearables will need to subtly integrate with our clothing and our bodies, or become fashion statements in their own rights if they aren’t to become an evolutionary dead end in the tech tree.

Likewise, the design paradigms that we invent for these ambient systems where the entire body becomes an interactive canvas will need to steer clear of a different kind of social deviance. Maybe in the future we will become accustomed to the jerking, twitching, winking, nodding motions of the Glass wearer in the way that it has become socially normed to browse your phone while some is talking to you (“phubbing”), but for now, it looks deeply peculiar.

Whilst conversations are not yet mainstream, embeddables are emerging as a new topic for debate. According to a recent panel at Venture Beat, “Wearable” computers will soon be inside us. “Embeddables” are going to have significant consequences for the delivery of digital services as screen-based interaction becomes less prominent, and possibly even disappears.

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Open Innovation Key for Modern Local Authorities

The LocalGov website notes that open innovation has never been more apt than in the public sector right now, with the on-going pressure to improve efficiencies and services with ever-decreasing resources. The public sector must therefore be as open as possible when it comes to sourcing and capturing innovative ideas that can help address issues and improve services. This can even be within policy development, involving collaborative and dispersed groups from across a spectrum of society to collectively develop potential new policy ideas. But however it is deployed, open innovation should be at the heart of modern local government.

Click here to read the full article.

Image via Flickr.

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