by Karen Coppock
With the incredible expansion of mobile phones in the developing world, it is easy to overlook the role of the simple landline phone. This is a mistake. Although landline phones are much less prevalent in emerging markets - ITU data shows a greater than 25:1 ratio of mobile phones to landlines in emerging markets - they are still a viable competitor to mobile phones, especially as you go further down the economic pyramid.
I was very surprised to see how many people were using public pay phones in the streets of Mexico last week. During a 20 minute coffee break in a cafe in the Zocalo (historic center of Mexico City), I saw a half dozen people use the public pay phone. This was true across the city - pay phones were very frequently used.
I should not have been surprised, however, as the use of landlines and pay phones were found to be a substitute for mobile phones in primary research Vital Wave Consulting conducted among low-income (and non-mobile phone owners) citizens in Mexico and six other emerging markets 18 months ago. From Ke in China to Siem in Cambodia and Mona in Egypt the people that we interviewed as a part of this research noted that "it was not an inconvenience" to seek out and use a public pay phone and that it was their primary mode of communication. Pay phones are an increasingly rare site in the US, yet they may continue to play an important role in emerging markets for the foreseeable future.