Around three-quarters of the world’s inhabitants now have access to a mobile phone, with subscriptions growing from fewer than one-billion in 2000 to over six-billion, the World Bank and its technology entrepreneurship and innovation programme, infoDev, said in a new report on Tuesday.
Nearly five-billion of the mobile subscriptions were in developing countries, the ‘Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximising Mobile’ report stated.
Ownership of multiple subscriptions was becoming increasingly common, suggesting that their number would soon exceed that of the human population.
“More than 30-billion mobile applications, or apps, were downloaded in 2011. In developing countries, citizens are increasingly using mobile phones to create new livelihoods and enhance their lifestyles, while governments are using them to improve service delivery and citizen feedback mechanisms,” the report stated.
"Mobile communications offer major opportunities to advance human and economic development – from providing basic access to health information to making cash payments, spurring job creation, and stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes,” commented World Bank sustainable development VP Rachel Kyte.
“The challenge now is to enable people, businesses, and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally-relevant mobile applications so they can take full advantage of these opportunities.”
World Bank lead information communication technology policy specialist and report co-author Tim Kelly said the mobile revolution was still at the start of its growth curve. “Mobile devices are becoming cheaper and more powerful while networks are doubling in bandwidth roughly every 18 months and expanding into rural areas.”
The report further emphasised the role of governments in enabling mobile application development. It also highlighted how mobile innovation labs – shared spaces for training developers and incubating start-ups – could help bring new apps to market.
For instance, infoDev, in collaboration with the government of Finland and Nokia, had established five regional mobile innovation labs in Armenia, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa and Vietnam.
infoDev is also using mobile social networking to bring grassroots entrepreneurs together with other stakeholders in mobile hubs.
“Most businesses based around mobile app technology are at an early stage of development, but may hold enormous employment and economic potential, similar to that of the software industry in the 1980s and 1990s. Supporting the networking and incubation of entrepreneurs is essential to ensure that such potential is tapped,” said infoDev programme manager Valerie D’Costa.