Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Mobile phones for the other 90%

CNN reports that telco companies are now realising that most people can't afford to pay $800 for a mobile phone. Wow. No shit.

The business case?

"With many markets in the developed world maturing, handset makers and service providers are looking for new ways to generate revenues. One way is to target the lower income subscriber. Today we have one billion subscribers and we need to get another billion subscribers."

Yeah. I always thought the principles of capitalist profit dictated that you sell as much as possible, so why telcos have only targeted the top 10% of the world's earners has always struck me as kind of weird. But I'm no economist, so I'm probably missing some sort of simple explanation.

But back to the idea that they want to sell to the other 90%. If you believe in the digital-divide, that probably sounds like a good idea. But let's not forget that companies aren't concerned so much with improving access (and quality of life) as they are with making more money. Not that that's inherently wrong or anything - just clarifying.

Anyway, I think the more interesting part of the article looks at services:

"Service providers have also come up with innovative ways to cater to the needs of the low-end consumer, using the text message as a virtual prepaid calling card. The consumer sends a text message to a number saying they agree to pay, and in return receives a specific amount of airtime. This system is paperless and cheaper to operate than other prepaid services. Normally mobile users need to buy credit card-style vouchers bearing an identification number that they key into their handsets to add airtime. Under the electronic system, operators do not have to print vouchers or be involved with distributing them. Therefore, they can afford to sell airtime in smaller amounts."

Hmm. Micro-payments for phones. I can see that working for all sorts of people and circumstances, and not just in the developing world.

Now just imagine what else we could come up with if we thought more about people other than well-off, white, male alpha-geeks...

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