Mobile growth in emerging markets

Ben Wagenaar

OPEN Health

Ben Wagenaar highlights how growth in mobile developments could assist healthcare in emerging markets and highlights projects in Africa, Brazil, China and India.

The explosion of mobile is one of digital media’s success stories in recent years. Our focus is gradually shifting from placing content on desktop screens into the hands of users with tablet and mobile devices, wherever they are in the world.

In some of the most important, fastest-growing emerging markets in 2012, where double-digit growth is the norm, many younger or new internet users may now be starting their connectivity with mobile or tablet computers as opposed to desktop variants. According to Vodafone’s Annual Report, 75% of all mobile phone users are in markets such as India and China. The same report also finds that mobile accounts for 60% of all global revenues, with the remainder coming from fixed lines, and that 80% of the world’s population has a mobile.

Fuelling this, in part, is the predicted middle-class growth in emerging markets and the associated disposable income that comes with it. Since it is these markets the developed nations are all in a rush to get into, some forward planning is crucial to ensure we deliver digital to the most appropriate platform.

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“…80% of the world’s population has a mobile.”

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It is important to understand also that the driver for mobile growth in these markets isn’t just about the increased development or desire for the mobile technology itself. Many countries never had the privilege of developing an infrastructure that could support landline phones or fixed broadband intranet, whereas a huge proportion of homes in developed nations will have lines into their houses for decades, a simple device connected by cable is all that is needed to web-enable their home.

In many emerging markets, this kind of network seldom exists outside urban centres. Yet with the right investment, they have already leap-frogged many developed nations, putting in 3G masts and the related technology, which is clearly faster and cheaper to implement than digging holes to lay cable. Capacity is increased simply by building more masts or revising the components that operate them. And unlike the UK and the US, many users have pre-paid services, since mobile airtime has evolved into a currency that can be used to pay bills, buy goods and services or even transfer funds abroad.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that even the best estimates predict slow uptake in fixed broadband connections in developing nations. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, by 2015 it is anticipated that fixed broadband will only account for 9% of all internet connections.

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“It is important to understand that the driver for mobile growth in these markets isn’t just about the increased development or desire for the mobile technology itself.”

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This of course has large implications for the service companies who are rushing to roll out in these markets. We often talk about understanding the audience needs in marketing, and here the platform is absolutely vital. For many European digital campaigns, a desktop or tablet-optimised approach is taken with mobile-compatible features, in markets with mobile-led internet access, the opposite would need to apply. In India, 59% of users’ internet access is mobile only, targeting your campaign through a desktop would therefore only reach a minority.

Critically, these markets will continue to benefit from innovation provided by developed nations. Many will not have the ability to develop digital content immediately and yet it is this that will help the success of mobile penetration, as people begin to enjoy more of the providers’ services. There will be innovation in pricing too, to widen availability. For instance, in Brazil, 74% of mobile users thought positively of receiving advertisements through their mobile devices in exchange for airtime minutes. Consider that digital advertising spend is already increasing at 14% a year globally, so here lies an innovative way to connect more people online for more of the time with the promise of greater exposure to messages.

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“One such project, in Zanzibar, an island close to Tanzania, is using an Android app to help diagnose malnutrition in infants more quickly.”

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However, Government policy may be a potential barrier to mobile development. In its Public Policy document, Vodafone states that “the policy debate in emerging markets should change quickly”. Specifically, it refers to investment in fibre optic technology which, while important in terms of reach and capacity, could easily be overshadowed by the end-user migration to mobile devices. Many governments in developed markets are committed to the Fibre to the Home (FTTH) policies, designed to increase broadband download speeds and availability as much as possible. This focus on backbone infrastructure arguably overlooks end-users’ needs.

Why is this so important to healthcare, apart from the large growth opportunity? Typically, healthcare and life expectancy in emerging markets will be weaker than those in developed countries. Mobile can give us the opportunity to reach people quickly to make a tangible difference. One such project, in Zanzibar, an island close to Tanzania, is using an Android app to help diagnose malnutrition in infants more quickly. With 130 deaths in the under-five age group every day, it’s a serious problem. The app records data from child visits to show progress and hopefully look for improvement. Such a remote location is unlikely ever to see fixed broadband, yet the app could offer hope for millions of youngsters.

In the delivery of digital media, it’s vital that your content can be delivered across as many platforms as possible. Yet the importance of targeting your audience’s needs more carefully should not be underestimated, as the surge in mobile use around the global continues.

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About the author:

Ben has worked in digital media for over 13 years, beginning with a number of software development and technical consultancy roles. Now Head of Digital Strategy at OPEN Health, his technical understanding and experience gained from being closely involved in the production and delivery of digital projects in this time provides innovation and support for clients and account teams across the OPEN group.

How can mobile developments improve health in emerging markets?