Advancements in mobile and the positive effects these will have on emerging markets was the general theme of the 2012 Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona from 27 February to 1 March, says Angus Robinson, NATIVE's Executive Creative Director: Concepts.
"There was a definite increase in awareness of emerging markets and the potential for massive growth in mobile therein," he says. Robinson adds that speakers at the Congress believed that the next couple of billion connections will be in emerging markets, resulting in a substantial investment in upgrading networks and mobile infrastructure in these countries.
"The importance of the transformative nature of mobile and its ability to lift people from poverty is exciting. We are seeing a strong trend towards everyone in the industry, including big brands, taking responsibility to ensure the public is connected," he says. An interesting statistic revealed at the Congress was that for every 10% increase in broadband penetration there will be a 1.4% growth in the GDP for lower income economies.
Looking at trends in mobile social media, Facebook revealed that 90% of its users in Nigeria and South Africa access Facebook via mobile. 30% of all Facebook registrations in India to date have been done via mobile. The fact that mobile allows anytime, anywhere connectivity and that people can upload content as and when they want to, has been the biggest draw to mobile.
"Bret Taylor, CTO of Facebook, presenting at the Congress, said that Facebook and mobile were made for each other and if the mobile technology of today had been around when Facebook was created, it would have been designed for mobile first. It appears that there will be a strong drive from Facebook into emerging markets as they believe the developed markets are mostly saturated. This strategy ties in closely with general mobile trends in emerging markets," says Robinson.
Mobile money was also a hot trend with the issue of banks and mobile operators fighting for the same customers in the spotlight. "While it seems mobile operators are in a better position than banks, using their vast distribution networks as money shops, they will mainly be dealing with smaller transactions. The banks will continue to deal with larger transactions since they specialise in these processes in addition to being well informed on security and regulatory requirements that are involved. It is amazing to see the potential that mobile money offers. It is an incredibly effective way to move cash around and, once again, anyone who has a mobile device has access to this service. It will be interesting to see how banks and operators come together to address this growing market of users," he says.
Robinson says there was a sense of urgency in using mobile to address humanitarian and social issues which came through strongly in many speakers' presentations at the Congress. Chairman of Airtel, Sunil Mittal, appealed to the mobile industry to float a tender for 100 million smartphones in an effort to drive prices down to below $50 per smartphone. As he put it, "Broadband is a game changer in the US and Europe but a life changer in emerging markets." Robinson agrees, saying it is indeed everyone's responsibility to drive costs down to get smartphones into people's hands.
The announcement by the GSMA of its Disaster Response initiative was also widely praised. It aims to create more resilient mobile networks that can be restored as quickly as possible after natural disasters. This resilience is based on having backup power solutions, spare network capacity and encouraging inter-industry cooperation.
Robinson says these trends are steadily making their way to the South African market. "We are an emerging market so it's exciting to know that much of the mobile technology advancement is still en-route to us. The real key will be tapping into these opportunities and making them work in our businesses, while at the same time doing what we can to empower the population at large with mobile," he concludes.