Maximize and Mobilize with the World Bank’s ICT 2012 Report

Interested in the possibilities of mobile phone technology? You should check out the World Bank’s recent report, IC4D 2012: Maximizing Mobile. The report is made up of case studies and lessons from various sectors, including health, agriculture, banking, and governance. You can download each chapter here. Need some more enticing? Here’s a run-down of a few of the interesting points and case studies:

Power to the Users! (Chapter 1)

As a result of the rise of the smartphone, operators have much less control over the mobile ecosystem. They risk being “genericized,” where users do not care about the mobile network brand but instead whether it has the fastest speed, best coverage, cheapest prices, highest quality, or biggest subsidy for popular handsets. Prepaid users, in particular, have little brand loyalty, with high rates of churn in markets where mobile number portability is a regulatory obligation. In some ways, this process is a repeat of the one that occurred in the early 2000s when the rise of the internet threatened to commoditize the “dumb pipes” of telecom operators, only now it is the mobile operators that are under pressure.

Revenues, costs… profits? (Chapter 2) – I am interested in how to make mobile technologies profitable (or at least self-sustaining), and what sort of costing structure or model is employed. This chapter looks at the example of Reuters Market Light, one of India’s largest market information services, serving 250,000 customers across tens of thousands of villages. It delivers customized information to India’s farming sector covering over 250 crops, 1,000 markets, and 3,000 weather locations across 13 Indian states in 8 local languages. Sounds like a cool model, right? The report notes that RML’s profitability depends on economies of scale, but there is a catch:

Such detailed processing can involve large sunk costs with relatively high monthly operating costs of $4 a customer. There is a trade-off between the provision of local information and scalability. Local teams are needed to collect data, and expansion into new areas may involve additional content provision costs, limiting economies of scale. Costs therefore climb in parallel with new subscribers. Because it relies solely on income from this single service, RML’s market remains relatively small and is not yet profitable.

Never Break the (Ag Value) Chain (Chapter 2) – “Smallholder farms, which often lack resources to keep up with strict and changing food safety standards on their own, are now increasingly turning to cooperatives and aggregators who are leveraging ICTs to improve traceability.” One interesting way they are doing this is with RFID tracking chips! For example: Sustainable Harvest (coffee)

Different Strokes, for Different Folks (Chapter 2) – When looking at agricultural pricing systems last semester for an ICT class, my team was impressed by Esoko in Ghana. The World Bank is too:

The people who set up Esoko soon realized that the agricultural sector consists of many decentralized markets where a single price cannot suffice. Therefore, Esoko became a mobile and web-enabled repository of current market prices and a platform to enable buyers and sellers to make offers and connect to one another. Using a bronze/silver/gold/platinum subscription model, Esoko has also been able to offer differentiated service to a diverse customer base.

Innovation without Coordination is…? (Chapter 3)- Kenya is home to all sorts of m4Health innovations (including and its viable business model), but without someone coordinating them all…

Unfortunately, the proliferation of pilot programs, with diverse goals and stakeholders, has fragmented the Kenyan mHealth landscape: standardized platforms that are well-integrated with the local health care system are lacking; few projects have been endowed with long-term funding; and systematic evaluation and impact studies are scarce.
Only recently have more streamlined coordination and division of responsibilities started to emerge. Increasingly, the government is taking over mHealth implementation and ensuring that it complements national policy, while NGOs undertake research, monitoring, and evaluation.

What if we could exchange money without the networks? (Chapter 4)- There is an interesting bit on Near Field Communications, which I have seen a bit of with viral video sharing via Bluetooth. Could money be exchanged with such technology to a receiving device, or even directly to another phone, without network usage charges?

Near field communications (NFC) is a technology that allows devices to communicate through mere proximity, usually by waving a specially equipped phone or card near a receiving device, as opposed to having to physically swipe it. NFC could serve to make transactions more efficient and secure by reducing errors, such as those that arise from mistyped numbers. In the coming years, more phones will be equipped with NFC, which is expected to become more popular for financial transactions. For mobile money, this means that transactions can be completed by waving a phone near a receiver, as opposed to having to text value to a recipient.

Mobile Money: An Ecosystems Approach (Chapter 4)-

Although mobile phones are central to all these uses, mobile money is more than just technology—it needs a cash-in, cash-out infrastructure, usually accomplished through a network of “cash merchants” (or “agents”), who receive a small commission for turning cash into electronic value (and vice versa).


Telecommunications and payments are transaction-based, with fees collected on transactions; conversely, banking is float-based, with money earned through holding deposits. Developing the necessary cross-sectoral partnerships—including bridging cultures and regulations—may therefore prove difficult.

Chapter 4 – Mobile Money

KenyaEnvy (Chapter 4)-

The model so successfully pioneered by M-PESA—starting with peer-to-peer transfers—has been widely replicated but may not fit well in other contexts. For example, an extensive ATM network already meets many of the consumer financial needs in Thailand. By definition, mobile money will not have a comparative advantage in every location or for every service, so the business environment must be enabling and open to allow businesses to pioneer new forms of mobile money tailored to local circumstances.

[Want to learn more about Kenya’s mobile money experience but don’t have time for the full chapter? Check out the World Bank blog here]

Open Innovation (Chapter 5)- “The paradigm of open innovation assumes that firms can, and should, use external as well as internal ideas and paths to market as they seek to advance their technology” In other words, developers are finding all sorts of exciting ways to innovate through collaboration, including: Google Technology User Groups; incubators like iHub; hackathons; and competitions like the m2Work challenge [*]:

To harness mobile microwork for development, infoDev has organized the Mobile To Work (M2Work) challenge to developers to come up with fresh thinking on ideas for microwork tasks that could be commissioned remotely to create employment opportunities in the developing world. The challenge, published online on February 1, 2012, at, attracted some 944 proposals by the April 2 deadline. Prizes, sponsored by UKaid and the Department for Foreign Affairs of the Government of Finland and worth up to $40,000, are being awarded to the best ideas. The overall winning proposal, submitted by Aadhar Bhalinge of India, suggests a smart rickshaw network to crowdsource maps at a very low cost in developing nations by employing fleets of rickshaw drivers to feed live traffic updates into a subscription service. The regional winners also will benefit from mentorship and a hackathon designed to turn the best ideas into functional applications.

Chapter 5 – Working Together

Encouraging Entrepreneurs (Chapter 5)-

Perhaps the greatest impact of mobile communications on jobs lies not so much on recruitment techniques, but rather on the structure of employment. Beyond creating more vacancy notices, mobiles can stimulate entrepreneurial activity, as the demand for mobile industry hubs and mobile incubators has shown, and it can create many more opportunities for self-employment, part-time work, and flexwork. In a mobile-driven economy, second and third jobs will become much more common—and much more important.

Technology is not enough… what about capacity? (Chapter 6)-

(T)he mere introduction of mobile tools cannot serve as a panacea for structural deficiencies in governments’ capacities or processes. Initial experiences suggest that the benefits of mGovernment will likely accrue to those governments that put in place policies and programs that not only enable technological transformation but also promote needed institutional reforms and process redesign. The increased demand for services and governance stimulated by this technological transformation will require an increased capacity to supply those services and improve governance.


(A)ny government seeking to adopt mobile tools should keep in mind that this process will successfully transform the government-citizen relationship only when governments enable the transformation of both elements—“mobile” and “government.”

Policies and bottlenecks (Chapter 7)-

By contrast with other ICT services, such as voice, broadband works as an ecosystem, where the supply and demand sides interact and reinforce each other (Kelly and Rossotto 2011, 25). Thus, broadband diffusion not only requires the supply of access through network coverage expansion, but also the development and availability of demand-side enablers, such as affordable smart devices and content and applications that respond to user needs.


The most common bottlenecks and market failures on the supply side are spectrum and backbone networks. On the demand side, limited availability of affordable broadband-enabled devices and services, as well as the lack of local applications and content, are the main bottlenecks and market failures.

Table from Chapter 6 on promoting mGovernment

[*] – Excited by the possibilities of mobile technology? Intrigued by idea competitions like the m2Work example? Stay tuned to NMTF for a chance to pursue your own ideas for mobile technology innovations