“We need to call Nimai to take a look at the wiring in the kitchen. Please go and get him.” In the 90′s that would be my mother asking my dad to go and fetch the electrician from his house, so that he could come and inspect the faulty wiring. There was no other way to contact Nimai.
Today, my electrician Barun has a dual-SIM mobile phone – he tells me that one number is for his boss and the electrical shop which sub-contracts him and the second is for his ‘personal clients’ that his company does not know about. This second business is growing, he informs me with pride, and soon he will no longer have to work for the electrical shop. His family, of course, can contact him on either number.
Mobile technology and low-cost mobile telephony options have empowered service providers like Barun to offer better services and enhance the reach of their businesses. The story is similar everywhere, across the developing world. A reader's comment on Brough Turner's post Mobile phone adoption goes crazy in Pakistan reflected this reality way back in 2005:
Another contributory factor…was the introduction of Calling Party Pays regime in late 2000 early 2001. Prior to the introduction of CPP, both the calling party and the called party were charged for airtime. Since CPP, only the calling party is charged. Consequently small traders and service providers such as plumbers / TV repairmen / electricians (whose services are in high demand) bought a mobile connection and were reachable throughout the day whether they were on call or in their shop.
However, the impact of the mobile phone is no longer restricted to connectivity alone. It has grown into a tool that enables, farmers, small traders and service providers to take information-based decisions, thereby leading to their economic empowerment.
Thus, from the fishermen in Kerala tracking market prices and negotiating best deals for selling their catch the next day, to farmers in Andhra Pradesh using the mobile phones as business helplines to gain useful business development related information, small traders everywhere have woken up to the immense potential of mobile technology in helping them better their lives. And in this they are not alone. As Martine Koopman points out on her blog ICT4D in Zambia and Ghana, the story is similar in places like Ghana, for example. On a field trip to visit some farming communities living about 6km from Salaga, she observes:
Now they have seen the advantages of phones all of them would like to have one. They not only use it for accessing market information, but all their crops (yams, maize, ground nuts, vegetables, etc) are in the system. If market traders visit the village they have a better negotiating position. They also have contact with market traders in Accra and Kumasi by phone.
Apart from imparting business/market information, the impact of the cell phones can be felt when increasing cell phone usage helps to improve distribution efficiency and reduction in search-of-information costs as well as tackling price dispersions across local markets, as was seen in this study conducted in Niger.
In all of this, the end-consumer is also a beneficiary. We get the benefit of convenience–from the basic facility of having an on-call service provider to ordering the fresh catch of the day from the fish-monger on his mobile, right up to using the virtual marketplace on our cell phones to buy fresh produce directly from the local farmer–in addition to enjoying competitively priced goods and products and services in the long run.
“Nimai”, thundered my mother, “get yourself a mobile phone. Otherwise, next time I am calling Barun.”