How the poor use cell-phones

Art January 14, 2012 00:00

By Kornchanok Raksaseri
The Nat

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Policy advocates complete another survey of mobile mobility at 'the bottom of the pyramid'


Poorer people in Asia have wide and increasing access to mobile phones, but only for voice calls, according to recent research. Some use the phones for short messaging service (SMS), radio listening and games, but otherwise make little use of them for more productive purposes.
Rohan Samarajiva of LIRNEasia gave the overview on “Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid” at a recent Communication Policy Research South conference in Bangkok.
For the region’s needy, Rohan say, cell-phones are still chiefly for emergencies and “maintaining relationships”.
Communication Policy Research South aims to shape policy on information and communications technology. LIRNEasia is a think tank addressing ICT policy and regulations. 
LIRNEasia last year surveyed people ages 15 to 60 whose daily income was less than the equivalent of US$2 (Bt63). Rohan said 33 per cent of the Thai population was in that category in 2011, up from 25 per cent in 2002. 
The polling was conducted in Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Java, Indonesia, upgrading results from a series of surveys taken since 2005. Eight hundred Thais were among the 10,154 people polled last year.
The survey found that Thai users spent more than any other nationality on mobile phones, $93 on average compared to $50 or less elsewhere. 
Most of the phones they bought had radio connections, while 14 per cent had a Web browser and 5 per cent had touch-screens.
Ninety-one per cent of the Thais said they’d used a mobile phone in the previous three months, up from 77 per cent in 2008.
More than 90 per cent of the urban users made regular calls, compared to 80 per cent in the rural areas. Interestingly, 90 per cent of Thai females had a mobile phone but only 80 per cent of the males, a proportion reversed in the other countries.
Pre-paid phone accounts predominated across the region, except for 4 per cent of Thais and 5 per cent of Sri Lankas who post-paid.
The phones were being primarily used for conversation, but 37 per cent of the Thais surveyed said they used the SMS service and 55 per cent of the Sri Lankans.
Eight per cent of the Thais used the MMS function, 5 per cent browsed the Internet, and 2 per cent handled e-mail on the phone. 
Nearly a quarter relied on “missed calls” – they would place a call and hang up before it was answered so the recipient would call back, saving them money. 
In Sri Lanka the figure was 65 per cent, in Pakistan 71, in India 78 and in Bangladesh 86 per cent. 
Half the Thais said they didn’t use SMS because they knew no one who could receive the message, while fewer said the messages were too difficult to type. More than half the respondents in Bangladesh and India didn’t know what SMS was. Half of those in Pakistan and Sri Lanka said it was too confusing. 
More Thais – 13 per cent here – also objected to the high cost of SMS.
About one third of Thais used their phones to listen to music, compared to one-fourth in Bangladesh and 15 per cent or less elsewhere. Almost one-fifth of the Thais also listened to radio broadcasts on the phone.
Two per cent of Thais used their phones to access Facebook and 1 per cent browsed to other social networks or blogging applications.