Somewhere over the horizon

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On reflection, the series of posts that I did about the mobile phone, its exponential market penetration in emerging markets, particularly the bottom of the pyramid segments of society, over the past 18 months or so, now seem to coalesce into a coherent vision of the medium term future. By this I mean the coming 3 to 5 years, you could say by 2009 to 2012.

To circumlocute for a moment before I attempt to write out this vision, look at what Arthur C.Clarke, author of the book Space Odyssey:2010 – a date that is almost upon us and not the far flung future of his imagination any more – was able to manifest with his grand vision – geostationary satellites – the first footprint of man’s real steps on this Earth.

So, in similar grandiose manner, what do I see beyond the blue horizon, with all due respect to Frederick Pohl? As an aside, I must note that one of the real reasons I like blogging best of all kinds of writing such as more formal articles or newsletters or whatever is that I can choose to be as dramatic in my choice of words as I please, there’s no editorial control here but me.

The internet is the foundation of the world wide web of humanity online. Yet there is no such facility on the cellphone platform yet to any great degree of usability and freedom of movement that browsing currently offers us. At the same time there is a great digital divide – between the haves and the have nots. Many have tried to different degrees of success in attempting to bridge this chasm, because they all see the potential to unleash the flow of wealth to and from the bottom most segments of socioeconomic and geopolitical strata, effecting real change in the standard of living for a great majority on our planet rather than just the fortunate few.

The numbers of cellphones sold in the past two years alone in the unexpected markets of the poorest of the poor, that too with surprising numbers of luxury or high end mobiles, far more than any market survey could have predicted is a clear signal of the shift in economic activity. Look at what is already happening now in Bangladesh – microfinance and cellphones; South Africa – banking the unbanked through their cellphones; Uganda – microentreprise using the cellphone.

In simple terms, lets ask "What if…?" in the best traditions of
science fiction and imagine a near future, possible already with
existing installed technology, that could bridge this digital divide
and provide the applications and the foundations to provide
connectivity, commerce and community through cellphones only. What if we focused on doing that over the next 2 to 4 years? What do you think would be the impact of the opportunity?

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