More on cell phones in Africa

Interesting piece on CNN about how the African cell phone market was totally underestimated by the industry. Now, as cellphones are more and more widely used, they can’t put up cell towers fast enough.

“We are developing unique ways to use the phone, which has not been done anywhere else,” says South African Michael Joseph, chief executive officer of Safaricom, one of two service providers in Kenya. For an impoverished continent, low-cost phones make “a perfect fit.”
(…)
“We all misread the market,” Joseph said.

The mistake, providers say, was to make plans based on GDP figures, which ignore the strong informal economy, and to assume that because land line use was low, little demand for phones existed.

The real reason for weak demand was that land lines were expensive, subscribers had to wait for months to get hooked up, and the lines often went down because of poor maintenance, floods and theft of copper cables.

Cell phones slice through all those obstacles and provide African solutions to African problems.
Cell phones reshaping Africa CNN, October 17, 2005

via Timbuktu Chronicles, who asks

The follow-up question could be, what other industries multinational and indigenous, are underestimating and or miscalculating the market for their products and or services in Africa?

Good question! One service, I think is way underestimated in Africa are public libraries. Rural Africa is way under-served when it comes to information access – the cellphones story proves that. Libraries are critical information infrastructure, especially in low-income communities. Just like cellphones, libraries have both an effect on the economy and on the social dynamics. A good library can provide information for farmers, small businesses and students, helping them to be more competitive and to adapt better to changes. And they help change people’s information access expectations. People who expect information will demand more information. And that attitude is essential for democracy to take root.

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