Monday, March 8, 2010

Mobile World Congress Puts the Spotlight on Maturing mServices

The 2010 Mobile World Congress, held last month in Barcelona, featured the usual array of cutting-edge devices and new service offerings from handset makers and operators from around the globe. While Microsoft's launch of its new mobile operating system got the biggest headlines, some of the most intriguing discussions that took place centered on the increasing maturity of mobile services aimed at emerging market consumers. Gavin Krugel, the GSM Association's director of mobile banking strategy, noted at the event that one billion people in the world have access to a mobile phone but not a bank account. And Krugel said that there are now 40 million people worldwide using mobile money, a number that is growing daily. In Uganda alone, 18,000 people join the ranks of mobile money users each day.

The development of mServices has long held great promise, but the lack of a clear business case has hampered their growth - until now. Mobile money, despite regulatory hurdles, is leading the way. And the plethora of mHealth applications on display at the Congress demonstrates that it too is beginning to take off. The case has been furthered by reports such as Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity, authored by Vital Wave Consulting and sponsored by the GSMA Development Fund and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. The study, which included surveys of over 2,000 women in developing countries, found that nearly half of women (and two-thirds of women business owners), are interested in services such as money transfers via their mobile phones, a number that is even higher in countries such as Kenya where knowledge of these services is widespread.

Mobile services are positioned to become highly strategic for scaling business and programs in emerging markets. This will likely be the case for technology companies and a range of vertical markets (such as financial institutions, agricultural firms, and even governments). Yet mServices are still a nascent arena. Successful scale requires careful planning up front and an understanding of the conditions in each individual market. For example, where banks hold significant political and economic power it may be necessary to include those institutions in any mFinance services offering. Otherwise, those banks may view mobile banking as a threat. Taking a hard look at the market dynamics - including industry, regulatory or competitive barriers - can make the development of a successful mServices strategy that much more likely.

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