Half the planet now has a mobile phone — ish. There are now 3.3bn mobile phone subscriptions worldwide according to Informa Telecoms and Media, but many people in richer countries have multiple subscriptions. In the poorest countries mobile penetration is often under 10%, and mobile phones become public amenities.
The contrast between rich countries and poor is stark,. But it is often the poorer regions that bring the most interesting uses of technology. Following the example of some enterprising individuals, some African operators are turning mobiles in to payphones, bringing telephony to rural regions for the first time. In Eastern Europe wireless infrastructure has been used to bypass the crumbling landline system to enable shopkeepers to take credit card payments and provide widespread access to broadband.
While we might all be dribbling over the latest mobile devices, a slightly modified version of the old adage holds true: ‘necessity is the mother of the [most valuable] innovation’.