Mobilesâ€”I The rate at which mobiles have penetrated every aspect of society is unprecedented in the annals of world history. In a two-part article, an analysis of the trends so far is presented with an overview of the policy initiatives being proposed to effectively leverage the almost limitless potential of mobiles for sustainable development Ashis Sanyal
or the last two decades or so, most governments all over the world are focusing on long-term, sustainable, and inclusive growth in order to provide development opportunities for all sections of the society. Remotely located rural and traditionally under-served communities have been the key target beneficiaries of these approaches. Enabling inclusive growth requires improving access for the poor, allowing them to participate in the mainstream development eco-system through economic opportunities. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has very long-impacting role to play in economic growth of any country. For example, one of the common and popular research findings relates a 10 percent growth in telecommunications connectivity to 1 percent growth in the GDP. In the background of economic recession in the last two decades or so, including the recent one, India has demonstrated its capacity to sustain a reasonably high level of growth in which the IT sector has played a stellar
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role. This has been possible partly because of continuous efforts being made towards sectoral integration of domestic markets, through effective use of ICT.
Attributes of Inclusiveness There are four important attributes of â€˜inclusivenessâ€™ in the context of a developing society. Broadly, the economy of an inclusive society would provide many opportunities for better livelihood to its people, facilitating consequent increase incomes over a period of time.
Secondly, it would also provide various means for the people, to enhance their capabilities to utilize those available opportunities. Access is the third of the attributes of an inclusive society, which actually brings opportunity and capability together. For instance, an individual having access to social needs like education or health services, can appreciate self values in society better: a sense of his or her true place in the larger community, and its associated obligations. The fourth dimension of an inclusive society is security, which ought to be provided by the government to citizens in a rapidly growing economy. A truly inclusive society would provide safety in terms of predictability and stability of livelihood to its people. In the context of India, this dimension of security in sustainable inclusive growth must be considered as having paramount importance, as majority of our population is still primarily dependent on agriculture-based livelihood activities. Interestingly enough, all these four dimensions of inclusiveness i.e. opportunity, capability, access and security issues can be addressed very effectively with intelligent and judicious use of ICTs within a desirable timeframe. In today’s world, time is crucial in most of the initiatives towards inclusiveness and order of the day is to resolve any issue in the right way first time and at the right time. ICT has given an unprecedented opportunity to the world for helping realize inclusive development
initiatives under time constraints. In the following sections we examine the impact that the evolution of communication technologies, especially the mobile technologies has made on inclusive growth. In our analysis, focus is on financial inclusion and governance, more specifically, on the delivery of public services to the citizens.
Mobile – the Latest Revolution As governments have been compulsively focussed on how to usher in sustainable inclusive growth in society, the world has been experiencing exponential growth in mobile connectivity and mobile phones. While the number of cars has crossed the figure of 950 million, that for TVs 1.5 billion, credit cards 1.6 billion and PCs have crossed the 1 billion mark since their introduction, mobile phones have crossed 6 billion in the last 3 decades alone. As wisely stated by Mr R Chandrashekhar, Secretary, Department of IT of Government of India, ‘mobile revolution’ is the only revolution in the history of civilization, which could truly touch the lives of billions of the people around the world in a very short span of time. According to the latest Wireless Intelligence predictions, the total number of mobile connections globally would have touched 6.07 billion by December 2011. With world population crossing 7 billion in October 2011, this
means that the global mobile penetration rate would have touched 86 percent by end 2011. It is further estimated that mostly developing economies are driving this global growth, representing close to 80 percent of global mobile connections. Wireless Intelligence expects that in 2012 the developing countries would contribute over 40 percent of global mobile revenues compared to 33 percent four years ago. It is observed that such growth in the developing region would offset declining trends seen in developed economies, particularly in Europe, where operator revenues have been negatively impacted by market saturation and regulatory measures. For many countries including India, the mobile revolution has been a boon for good governance. The constantly widening mobile user base has presented decision makers with an unprecedented opportunity for taking the benefits of governance and expanding the reach of public services to every citizen, especially in hitherto under-privileged rural areas through innovative mobile applications. For the providers of telecom services, electronic governance applications and electronic content, the mobile revolution presents a very good business opportunity as well. With the large number of potential mobile users across the country, it makes sound business sense to develop applications, content and services on mobile platforms. The pie is appreciably February 2012 / www.egovonline.net / egov
very large. For example, among the 31 Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) of Government of India, the government-to-citizen and citizen-to-government (G2C/C2G) category itself numbers more than 1100 services, which are expected to be delivered in multi-channel delivery platform. Many of these services have sound economic potential for delivery through a mobile platform. In this context it may be recalled that in 2009, more than 850 million m-payment transactions took place across the world. By another estimate, NavTeq mobile maps are used by over 100 million people every day. This shows the steadily increasing use of a mobile platform for day-to-day use.
Look South Asia (Pacific) for Mobile Revolution The growth-rate of mobile users in South Asia and Asia Pacific countries for the last few years has steadily surpassed the corresponding figures in the developed countries. The highest cumulative growth rate for mobile subscribers is currently held by the South-Asian countries, with India leading the group, adding an average of almost 15 million subscribers each month. Wireless Intelligence observed that global growth is being driven by the Asia-Pacific region, accounting for about 50 percent of all connections at the end of 2011. Almost two-thirds of connections in the Asia-Pacific region relate to China and India – currently the two largest mobile markets in the world. Both countries are on track to hit 1 billion connections each, in early 2012. By this time six of the world’s top ten largest mobile markets will be located in Asia-Pacific region with China as #1, India #2, Indonesia #4, Vietnam#7, Japan #8 and Pakistan #9. Also, in the fourth quarter of 2011-12, Africa is set to overtake the Americas as the second-largest regional market with 648 million connections (11 percent of the total). Africa is forecast to record the strongest year-on-year connections growth of all the global regions, rising 18 percent over the previous year. This period will also see Eastern Europe overtaking Western Europe in terms of connections, with Western Europe predicted to record the weakest year-on-year growth. While examining the above statistics and in analysing the cause and effect situation, one may wonder whether it is a traditional oral society effect for these countries! In this part of the world, religious, social, cultural and
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ethnic heritage were kept alive, mostly orally, for thousands of years and consequently the technology which best supported the way of oral communication, has been overwhelmingly adopted by the society pretty fast.
Mobile Revolution in India and its Impact on Society The equivalent statistics for the Indian scenario are very impressive. While the number of TV sets has hardly reached 500 million in the last 4 decades, radios and newspapers have reached approximately 180 million. In this light, the more than 900 million mobile phone connections, increasing by around 15 million per month and expected to reach 1200 million by 2014 is a truly astounding achievement! However, there is a caveat in these figures due to existence of multiple connections per user and also many inactive connections. A recent study of the Indian market revealed that 30 percent of the country’s total mobile market size is redundant.
Four dimensions of inclusiveness i.e., opportunity, capability, access and security issues can be addressed very effectively with intelligent and judicious use of ICTs The Government of India has very wisely been following calibrated policy measures in the areas of tele-communications and IT, in consultation with the stakeholders, for some time. Perhaps, the most visible result of all these policy initiatives is the fast growth of mobile penetration within the country. Mobile phones are being currently seen in most quarters in India, as a key enabler of information and also a sort of social revolution. Through extensive use of mobile phones in all business sectors, the traditional information control by the middleman is disappearing. One can say that mobile phones have thus contributed to a breakdown of social hierarchy, thereby improving the access of socially deprived people to markets and capital. The next phase of the initiative is to ensure that the impact of rising mobile density be maximised in identified priority social sectors like health, education, poverty elimination, environment etc.
A recent survey revealed that the mobile subscriber base among the rural population in India is also increasing very rapidly, highly outnumbering bank account holders in rural India. This presents a great emerging opportunity – to provide basic governance and also financial services on mobile platform, which would reach under-served and un-banked sections in rural areas. As the Government of India currently has the mandate to facilitate reach of electronic governance to maximum number of citizens, it has been pro-active in finalising the policy framework for delivering basic financial services through a mobile platform while also working on policy guidelines for mobile governance and delivery of public services through mobile phones.
Government Policy Initiatives The issue confronting the government now is how to use the mobile revolution more effectively, not only for governance, but also for all walks of social life, for all aspects of inclusive growth – opportunity, capability, access and security, whether in social sector viz., education, health or in governance sector, so as to provide better government-to-citizen services at much cheaper cost, including reliability and efficiency of government-togovernment services. For this, the Government of India has taken a conscious decision to bring about major policy interventions for mobile governance, considering its great potential to uplift social and economic conditions of the common citizen, especially of those living in the remote and difficult places in rural India, where fruits of development and progress did not reach adequately for many years. The number of applications developed and increasingly being used in mobile platform, to provide health and education services, various citizen-centric government services etc., amply demonstrate the power of the mobile technologies to enable the poorest citizens to help themselves get access to mainstream economic growth.
the author last served as Senior Director in DIT, GoI. He now works as an Independent Consultant