“In Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Indonesia (the so-called BRICI countries), there are 610 million regular internet users but a staggering 1.8 billion mobile-phone users”, according to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). This statistic presented by the Economist (September 2, 2010 print issue) reminds me that mobile phones will be the most powerful connective infrastructure capable of transforming these societies in ways and along paths that are far more agile and different than the way the Internet first and mobile second changed the developed societies.

Places like India have become mobile gold mines with a combination of factors:

  • The poor landline infrastructure means that Internet will not be available for virtually all of its rural population for the foreseeable future.
  • Competition and friction-less switching costs between mobile operators drives prices down (WAY Down) making the service affordable for even the poorest of the poor.
  • The sheer scale of the number of participants in the service means there are millions of new subscribers every month and millions more to sign up next month.

How can poor people use a service where prices are as low as $0.006 per minute (two cents for the average 3-minute call)? Farmers check the market price and decide to ship their produce today instead of tomorrow or decide to ship their produce tomorrow instead of today. The mechanic orders a replacement part for the broken truck. Patients check up by phone with their doctors on recent lab test results instead of traveling to their offices and waiting. Unemployed check job postings in other nearby towns. Children check in on their parents.

It’s these realities that have people in the mobile industry buzzing. The sales of mobile SIM cards in the “BRUICI” countries is doubling at twice the speed that PC sales are. Some argue that the slower growth of PCs will eventually stifle the economies of these markets. I disagree that the world has to develop along the same paths taken by the leading markets. This is not necessarily true. One of the joys of traveling is to see how people with the same problems solve them differently with different priorities and resources. The BRICI economies will be the proof of that, for sure.

On the other hand, with the recent introduction of tablets such as the Apple iPad or the BlackBerry PlayBook the processing power of a PC is being replicated as a smart phone form factor and as a new, ultra-portable truly personal computing device. As the prices and costs of these classes of devices permeates the developed world, it will not be long before the mobile computer is inexpensively and readily available to the  BRICI, which will accelerate the changes in work, play and economics now happening for billions.

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