Self Determined Participatory Action of Marginalized Groups: The streets of São Paulo

The Mobile Revolution

The purpose of the following text is to give an overview about the worldwide rise of information and communication technology (ICT) with particular emphasis on the spread of mobile phones in Africa, South-America and Asia. It is work in progress and by far not complete
. This initial version is based on the corresponding
paragraphs written for the research proposal of this thesis. 

The current text presents statistical information about the usage of mobile phones worldwide in terms of number of mobile phone subscribers and provides a very short analysis of those numbers.

According to the
2009 report “Measuring the Information Society” of the
International Telecommunication Union
(ITU), information and communication technology (ICT) has been
growing steadily in the last decade. The most dramatic growth in ICT
can be seen on the global mobile phone market. Approximately 61
percent of the world’s population was subscribed to mobile phone
networks by the end of 2008, this refers to more than 4 billion
subscribers. Internet usage grew steadily as well but on a much
smaller pace, resulting in connectivity of approximately 23 percent
of the world’s population. Other means of communication such as fixed
and mobile broadband subscriptions grew slowly but are far from a
global coverage while fixed telephone lines connections remained more
or less stable at approximately 19 percent availability to the
world’s population. Internet and mobile phones are thus the currently
predominant technologies for information exchange.

In case of mobile
phones one can speak of a mobile revolution because no other
technology in history grew so fast and has had such a huge outreach
in just about one decade. While those regions that early experienced
an adoption of mobile communication technology (Europe,
North-America, Oceania) saw doubling of subscription rates between
2002 and 2007, those countries with low penetration rates (Africa,
Asia, South-America) experienced a subscription growth of several
magnitudes between 2002 and 2007.

ICT developments, 1998-2008


Measuring the
information society : the ICT development index

one note of caution about these statistical numbers must be issued.
The current figures rely on supply-side data of mobile operators and
don’t take into account that one person may have several prepaid
subscriptions or multiple SIM cards (ITU, 2009b; Gillwald and Stork,
2008). Demand-side surveys such as “Towards Evidence-based ICT
Policy and Regulation: ICT access and usage in Africa” confirms
these facts and state that at least for the case of Africa, the
numbers could be lower by 10% (Gillwald and Stork, 2008).

The following
graphs visualize the various findings from a global and regional

developments in Africa, 1998-2008 penetration rate

Information Society Statistical Profiles 2009 – Africa

20 African States by Mobile Penetration

Africa & Middle East Mobile Telecoms Market in Figures 1H 2009

cellular subscriptions in the Americas

Information Society Statistical Profiles 2009 – Americas

cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in the Americas, 2008


Information Society Statistical Profiles 2009 – Americas

developments in Asia and the Pacific, 1997-2007

Information Society Statistical Profiles 2009 – Asia and the

Despite these
promising numbers, the digital (communication) divide that separates
the connected and the disconnected seems to fade out just slowly.

and Stork (2008
explain that mobile penetration and subscriptions in Africa is highly
concentrated in urban areas, available in wealthier households. The
digital divide exist between urban and rural areas but mobile
operators started to extend their services into the rural areas which
will further decrease the urban-rural divide. Another factor that
prevents access and disturbs usage possibilities is the relatively
high costs of services compared to income.

In Asia, access to
mobile communication largely depends on income level which excludes
those parts of society with low or lower-middle income. Some
exceptions are Korea, China and Vietnam (ITU, 2009c).

Latin America and
the Caribbean generally have a very high mobile penetration rate, in
some countries, above 100 percent are estimated as in the case of
Panama or Argentina (ITU, 2009b).

the other hand, the interpretation of statistical numbers of
subscriber represent only one facet and can often be misleading, for
example when comparing small and large countries where the first may
have penetration rates above 100% due to its small population and
area but the latter has a much higher number of subscriptions due to
its larger population but has still a lower penetration (Hersman,
2009). Other aspects such as usage patterns of mobile communication
may also impose another perspective on the digital divide.

vendors in African cities provide single phone calls to those that
cannot afford a mobile subscription thus ICT may be available to the
disconnected even without subscription (Ekine et al, 2009).

the calling without picking up is used as a no-cost alternative to
transmit “messages” with a limited amount of meanings (Campbell
et al, 2007).

services such as text messaging are less costs intensive than calls
but provide the means for information exchange and even allow for
organization of dissent and the exercise of citizenship (Ekine et al,
2009; Campbell et al, 2007). The spread of services and functions
build around text messaging is evident and the ease of use and
application of these services and functions may facilitate the
participation of the marginalized and disadvantaged in citizenship or
economy as well.

The following References can also be found in the
corresponding zotero.org

Blycroft, 2009. The Africa & Middle East Mobile Telecoms Market in Figures 1H 2009. Available at: http://www.telecomsmarketresearch.com/reports/Africa_Mobile_Databook_1H2009_REDACTED.pdf [Accessed February 26, 2010].

Campbell, S.W. et al., 2007. Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective. 2007. Available at: http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/189/99.

Ekine, S. et al., 2009. Sms Uprising Mobile Phone Activism in Africa., Gardners Books.  

Gillwald, A. & Stork, C., 2008. Towards evidence-based ICT policy and regulation : ICT access and usage in Africa. Available at: http://www.researchictafrica.net/new/images/uploads/ria-policy-paper_ict-access-and-usage-2008.pdf [Accessed February 25, 2010].

Hersman, E., 2009. African Mobile Market, Q2 2009 Numbers. WhiteAfrican. Available at: http://whiteafrican.com/2009/11/24/african-mobile-market-q2-2009-numbers/ [Accessed January 7, 2010].

ITU, 2009a. Information Society Statistical Profiles 2009 – Africa. Available at: http://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-d/opb/ind/D-IND-RPM.AF-2009-PDF-E.pdf [Accessed December 26, 2009].

ITU, 2009b. Information Society Statistical Profiles 2009 – Americas. ITU Publications. Available at: http://www.itu.int/publ/D-IND-RPM.AM-2009/en [Accessed February 20, 2010].

ITU, 2009c. Information Society Statistical Profiles 2009 – Asia and the Pacific. ITU Publications. Available at: http://www.itu.int/publ/D-IND-RPM.AP-2009/en [Accessed February 20, 2010].

ITU, 2009d. Measuring the information society : the ICT development index., Geneva: International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Available at: http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/publications/idi/2009/material/IDI2009_w5.pdf


Category: mobile revolution, theoretical framework, thesis


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