The Internet and mobile devices have changed the way we work and play over the past two decades. In developed countries we have access to any information we could ever want to know in our pocket, and can communicate with someone on the other side of the world. But what about the places that don’t fall into the “developed” category? Developing countries present a huge chance for mobile technology companies, with the business being done benefitting both the companies and the people that live there.
That’s what Facebook is trying to prove with its new OpenCellular platform. OpenCellular is a relatively inexpensive wireless access point that connect devices on 2G, LTE, or Wi-Fi. One person can place the device, either a few feet off the ground or higher up on a pole or tree. The device can handle the elements, making it ideal for places like Sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East. It can also use a variety of power sources, including solar and external batteries.
So what does this mean for the future of the mobile industry? Let’s take a look at developing countries and the potential audience they contain! Of the Earth’s 7.2 billion people, almost a third of them don’t have access to 3G or 4G mobile broadband Internet. 10 percent of all humans don’t even have access to basic voice and text services. Of that group, the majority live in either Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa. Because of this lack of access, only approximately 15 percent of people in Africa have a smartphone. So while people in places like Uganda or Nigeria show cell phone ownership mirroring the numbers found in the United States, the vast majority of them are feature phones, only allowing for calling and texting. In fact, 70 percent of all phones shipped are feature phones, which show a great need for Internet access and better phone options around the globe. A 2009 study even found that every 10 percent increase in mobile penetration, the GDP of that country rose 1.2 percent. Mobile Internet access is good for everyone, not just the companies providing it.
All of these numbers tie back into what Facebook is trying to do with OpenCellular. Obviously, the platform is not all charity. Facebook can increasingly pad their bottom line with users in the countries that at this point have no access to the internet, much less the social network. Forrester Research Vice President and Principal Analyst Jeffrey Hammond put it like this: “These OpenCellular devices are the razor, and FB ads are the blades. I’m sure it’s consuming a fairly large team of developers and hardware folks, but that cost is still small compared to the ad revenue that a few hundred million (or billion) additional users could drive for them.”
Developing countries present one of these biggest opportunities for mobile tech companies, as they contain a large swath of the population that has yet to use the apps or services available. With more technology like OpenCellular making its way to these places, the bigger mobile will get. With digital surpassing broadcast television in advertising revenue next year, it’s clear which platform is ready to push us into a new generation of communication and technology. Mobile in more places is better for everyone.