Friday, January 16, 2009

Nokia: Mobile Products for Emerging Markets

During my exploration of design for emerging markets I came across many articles associated to Nokia. These pieces were either written by researchers who had worked for Nokia, or written about projects supported by Nokia. It is obvious that Nokia is one of the technology companies that is most committed to developing solutions for the emerging market. Of course this is not an altruistic-only strategy as great riches await companies that can design products and services that profitably expand the reach of technology to poor communities.

Here is an overview of several interesting and innovative initiatives from Nokia that are related to the design of products and services for emerging market users, and supporting the spread of mobile technology in developing areas.

Nokia Life Tools

“Life Tools” is the first initiative from Nokia that piqued my interest. I learned about it through a post on PSFK in early November. This suite of tools will provide emerging market phone users with access to agriculture and education-related services, helping to connect and ‘empower’ them. Entertainment services will also be available. Soon, many basic Nokia handsets will come with these capabilities pre-loaded, assuming you live in a market where these services are supported. [view an overview about these services from the Nokia website]

This suite of services was designed on an SMS platform to overcome the technological challenges present in rural areas such as the absence of access to the mobile web. This is crucial considering that data services are not available in many of these areas. This solution also enables users to avoid the complexity and high-costs associated to billing of data based services.

It is interesting to see Nokia entering more fully into the services space with this new offering. This is a direction that we have seen some companies pursue on the high-end of the market. For example Apple with its extensive suite of services has for a long time stood for empowerment and freedom. It is interesting to see Nokia leveraging a similar strategy of empowerment that is appropriate for people from the opposite end of the economic continuum. The center of their digital universe is a cell phone rather than a MacBook, iPhone or Blackberry.

According to Ken Banks this initiative from Nokia is “a move that mirrors the company's "developed world" strategy -- a move from out-and-out hardware supplier to one of a more inclusive services-based outfit. As if (very) successfully designing and building low-cost handsets for emerging markets wasn't enough, Nokia will now start offering emerging-market specific data services through its low-cost phones.” [read the full article here]


Nokia Siemens Networks Village Connection

The Networks Village Connection is another interesting and innovative product from Nokia that is designed for emerging markets. This technology was developed to enable mobile networks to extend into rural areas beyond the reach of conventional networks. It uses modular and compact GSM Access Points that can be owned and managed by a local entrepreneur or by an existing mobile provider. [read more about this technology on the Nokia website]

Expanding Horizons
Nokia even publishes a magazine related to opportunities associated to consumer telecommunications in emerging markets, this magazine is called Expanding Horizons. Here is an overview about this magazine from its own site: "Expanding Horizons is a quarterly publication aimed at ICT decision-makers in the private and public sectors. It explores the socio-economic benefits that mobile technology offers as well as best practices from around the world in order to encourage affordable mobile communications and bring Internet to the next billion consumers. It also shows how to create a favorable environment for market growth." [read it online here]

More than anything this magazine demonstrates that Nokia’s focus on emerging markets is driven by business considerations. This is expected and I don’t think it is a bad thing. Nokia is helping to increase the reach of communication technology to a whole new group of people who were previously ignored due to profitability considerations. If they continue to design services that empower people, like Life Tools, then this relationship should benefit both parties: Nokia and other telecom companies, and more importantly, people from emerging markets.

The February issue from this custom publication features an interesting article about bringing the internet to the next billion users. This article demonstrates that Nokia has a solid understanding of business opportunities, economic challenges and social and cultural nuances that impact the design and adoption of technology in emerging markets. [read full article]

In this article they highlight two important aspects distinctions in the way that the internet will be adopted by the next billion people. These differences focus are related to “how” and “why” technology is adopted; both factors that have a large impact on design of appropriate services:
  • Internet adoption will be driven via the mobile handset, as opposed to the desktop or laptop computer. “The sheer cost-effectiveness and convenience of mobile technologies will prove decisive. Mobile devices are pervasive, with penetration growing at a rapid pace.”
  • The specific needs of people in emerging market will drive creation of new services, not available in advanced markets. “The internet for the next billion consumers will be very different to the services prevalent in advanced markets… The mass of consumers in emerging markets lives in semi-urban and rural areas. Villages are far apart. A trip to the city is a big event in many people’s lives. We need to understand that their context is highly local.”
Closing the Digital Divide
Ken Banks brought up an interesting dilemma related to these prophesies of internet adoption in emerging markets from Nokia and other handset makers. Ken questions the way these companies talk about the mobile phone helping close the digital divide. He points out that mobile phones are relatively cheap devices, provide instant voice communications and SMS functionality, and offer the potential to provide access to the internet. However, many of these functionalities are not available in the handsets available to low-income users in emerging markets. Internet specifically tends to not be accessible on the low-cost phones sold in developing nations.

This issue is caused by the fact that “many people make a huge assumption about the technologies available to users in developing countries.” According to Ken “if we’re serious about using mobile to help close the digital divide, how about diverting international development funding towards providing a subsidised, fully-internet ready handset for developing markets?” Interesting question indeed. [read his full article here]

1 comment:

Mark said...
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