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March 14, 2012

Please listen carefully. (Your menu options have changed)

Posted by Manish Tandon (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:16 AM

As I booked tickets on my phone for an evening out at the movies, I marveled at how things had changed over the past couple of decades. (No, I'm not talking about the price of tickets, although that alarms me as well!).  In a country of 1.2 billion, where 15 years ago even getting a regular phone was a luxury, here I was buying movie tickets on my mobile phone!!!

Really, mobile telephony has had an unprecedented impact on our lives today.  Consider some vital statistics and see what I mean:
  1. 4 billion active mobile connections the world over vs. just 1 billion active personal computers
  2. 90% of the world's population has access to a mobile network
  3. Average mobile app usage is 81 min/ day vs. Internet consumption of 71 min/ day
  4. 45% users check their mobile devices first thing in the morning (A newspaper is not a mobile device!)
I suspect that if you look at these statistics for emerging economies, the difference will be even starker. For example, in India, a person earning less than US$ 5 a day probably has a mobile phone but has never used the Internet on a PC. With smartphone prices predictably dropping, a vast majority of them will become smartphone users riding the net on the mobile airwaves. Mobile penetration, in India, which is currently the fastest growing mobile market, is slated to reach 100 percent by 2015.

Alexander Pope didn't have our world in mind when he wrote, "A little learning is a dangerous thing, drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring." Today, anything I need to know (and more) is accessible at the touch of a button, or better still, a voice command.  I can learn as little or as much as I'd like. While technology has grown at a mind-boggling rate, what is even better are the possibilities this has opened up. Businesses have changed. Economies have changed. Life has changed. But wait... that isn't the complete picture. Mobility has brought in a new dimension to an already incredibly empowering online world.

Paper money is being given a run for its money, so to speak. Plastic money might still be at a premium and inaccessible to the local tea stall owner in Rajnandgaon, but a mobile isn't. In fact, even as I write this, one of the leading mobile companies in India, is literally painting the airwaves red by launching this service across India (Powered by Infosys, who else?). Let's kick it down a notch, too.  We're all not comfortably middle class.  What of the 1.7 billion people in the world who earn less than US$ 2 a day? Will mainstream banks and financial services support them? Who will support high-volume, low-value transactions and how?  The key to supporting high-volume and low-value transactions is ensuring that the distribution and intermediary costs are near zero. And, no prizes for guessing which platform and medium can achieve this for all sorts of relatively virtual goods - money, advertisements, information or even knowledge.

All of this clearly points to the beginning of a new era for commerce. The possibilities are endless. What these possibilities will mean for our world, the challenges this will present and how we can tackle these are just a few things worth deliberating... And while we're at it, if you have any idea as to how I can get through an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menu without giving vent to subconscious violent tendencies, do let me know.


You have absolutely hit on the nail. the days for brick and mortar banks are numbered unless they adopt the change. G-Cash, M-Paisa have already set the roadmap for mobile banking.

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