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Mobile services: a game-changer for the greater good

Pierre Guislain's picture
Mobile services are the extension services of inclusion.  Increasingly, the world’s poor – and especially the bottom 40 percent in terms of income – are being reached via mobile devices by government agencies, development partners, banks, companies and others. 

As we extend networks, and in particular broadband, to reach more isolated populations and the bottom 40 percent, we need to foster the development of relevant content in substance (including government services) as well as form (including pictorial and video information for the illiterate).

 
Mobile-money services like M-Pesa have 
helped bring banking to millions in 
developing countries. Photo: Ventures Africa 
The private sector is the key driver of this entire change process, which government should facilitate.
 
The acceleration of technological change – with mobile is at the forefront – is leading to increased convergence between networks, devices, services and content providers. Judging from what I saw and heard during last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona,  my sense is that telecommunications regulation (as  practiced today) will soon become obsolete, overshadowed by the importance of ensuring an overall balance and flexibility in this broader, converging market. 

Consequently, institutions like the World Bank will need to find better ways to ensure that key regulators talk to each other and work towards the greater public good. This includes not only telecom and competition authorities, but also broadcasting, financial services and other regulatory bodies. We should facilitate these conversations between regulators, especially in view of the fast-growing involvement of telecommunications entities in the mobile money space.

In addition to mobile money and financial inclusion, identification for all (ID4D) programs will become the access key to many online or mobile services. Official identification is a necessary dimension of any program to reach the poorest through mobile services, which in many cases have also become the medium that the world’s bottom 40 percent are most comfortable with.

Access and affordability are also obviously critical issues. Universal access obligations need to be considered carefully in the context of licenses and regulation. Likewise, universal service funds should be repurposed to serve this broader inclusion agenda, not limited to telephony, but focused on maximizing the impact of communications services on the poor.

Spectrum management is becoming increasingly important, as more and more people and devices use mobile communication technology, and because bandwidth requirements for the industry’s latest devices are of a magnitude larger than previous generations.  Many countries are not using their spectrum efficiently and lag in the introduction of new affordable wireless services.  The analog to digital broadcasting switchover that was to be completed this year but is not yet implemented in many client countries provides a unique opportunity to rethink spectrum use.
 
The mobile revolution has resulted in unprecedented growth, with more than seven billion mobile subscriptions and three billion active Internet users. We must take this opportunity to further link the mobile platform as an enabler for the Sustainable Development Goals, utilizing its reach and potential to fight poverty and build shared prosperity.