by Dave Zornow
New York, June 11 — Cell phones are more ubiquitous than water. About 8 in 10 people around the world have clean water but almost 9 out of 10 use a mobile phone. Lucy Hood, Executive Director of the USC Marshall School of Business says cell phone usage also trumps global access to electricity (74%) and landlines (18%), too. Hood told attendees at the Advertising Research Foundation AMS 7.0 Conference that the biggest future growth in mobile use is outside of the US and Europe — using a list of services which most domestic users might find unusual.
Five years ago, smartphones were more of a concept than a buzzword in the US. But while we have been focused on getting better, smarter phones, the rest of the world has been going mobile at rates that triple the developed world. From 2010 to 2011, cell phone growth was 12 percent worldwide compared to only 3.5 percent in developed countries. In many parts of the world, the cell phone is an easy way to leapfrog infrastructure impediments to development: it’s a lot less expensive to install cell towers than it is to run cable for landlines for phones or Internet connections. Hood projects a global market of 10 billion cell phones by 2016. She says that mobile is the largest mass medium the world has ever known. “It’s not just life enhancing, but life enabling.”
Hood’s findings are based on the 2011 USC Global Mobile Survey, a study of cell phone usage in 15 countries that tracks patterns in mobile data services. The survey includes the US and Europe (Finland, Germany, Greece), Asia (China, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan) and Australia to identify the drivers and constraints to mobile market growth.
In many parts of the world the Internet means mobile. More than half of those surveyed in Egypt, India and Kenya say that cell is their primary way to access the Internet. Egypt — a country where access to social media played an important role in regime change during the 2011 Arab Spring — 70 percent of respondents said that mobile was their primary way to get to the Internet. About 3 in 10 Egyptians say they use social media, one of the principal sources for independently reported news during last year’s uprising. The percent of Egyptians using social media increased ten points from before the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak (18 to 28 percent).
Hood says that that global social media usage differs from how it is typically used in the U.S. In developing countries, businesses will use Twitter to develop pricing strategy. For consumers, a cell phone photo can be transmitted via SMS or social media to provide access to health care professionals. And mobile’s ability to foment political change has riveted the attention of Arab, Iranian and Chinese government officials.