About two weeks ago I spent a few very enjoyable days in Nairobi Kenya.
I was invited to speak at the Mobile Web East Africa conference, another in the series of “Mobile Web Africa” conferences put on by the very impressive All Amber, driven by Matthew Dawes.
Here’s my slideshow.
The message to my very enthusiastic and very friendly east African colleagues was not dissimilar to my theme a few months before at the same conference in Johannesburg and as contained in my previous blog post.
In a nutshell: whilst it is clear for all to see that mobile web consumption is showing explosive growth all over the world and certainly also in Africa, African mobile operators, publishers and entrepreneurs need to extend the definition of “the mobile web” to include access to internet based or proprietary content via SMS, USSD and voice – if they wish to find a market large enough to scale to a significant business opportunity in the present.
That is not to suggest that the availability of smart phones will not continue to grow rapidly in these markets.
In South Africa for example smart phones already account for about 6% of mobile phones in use and it certainly makes sense to begin to invest in content delivery platforms and applications for the top end of the market, users of phones with sophisticated operating systems like Android, the iPhone OS and high end Symbian OS.
In most African markets the number is significantly lower and the reality is that for at least the next three years mass distribution of internet based information is possible only via WAP, SMS, USSD and VOICE channels and from a monetisation perspective the available commercial models (commerce, transactions, content, advertising) will follow the eyeballs only where there is sufficient scale to justify investment.
It will be interesting to see how SMS based internet services like the one just announced by MTN Ghana with Mobile-XL (a J2ME application powered by SMS) and the pure SMS based internet offering launched a while ago by MTN Uganda in partnership with Google and the Grameen Foundation are adopted: much will depend upon the pricing and monetisation models supporting these offerings – how much value will be extracted directly from consumers and how much of the commercial burden will be passed to advertisers and sponsors?
I also need to ask the African mobile network operator community: why so few commercial USSD offerings? It is a proven, reliable and fairly cheap channel and usable by close to 100% of your customers.
In South Africa USSD is used by millions of mobile customers daily and for a variety of services from banking through content delivery, user surveys and customer service.
As beautiful as the iPhone is and as impressive as its applications are, it is very difficult to do anything meaningful with a mere ten thousand users in a market like Kenya for example.
From a mobile advertising perspective we are beginning to see some great momentum in South Africa with approximately $50 million likely to be spent on rate carded mobile media in 2010** – only the mobile web assets with real scale are able to attract direct ad dollars though – the rest must rely on the mobile ad networks like AdMob and Buzz City for monetisation as these networks are able to aggregate the smaller players and present advertisers with a mobile ad proposition with reach.
Ask any media buyer: reach and scale is important.
Key African markets like the east African region and the big markets on the west of the continent will follow South African mobile media trends and my recent visit to Nairobi confirmed that for me quite clearly.
The mobile phone is the only viable global digital mass medium and measured at the same time in its life cycle as Online Media in developed markets – it is growing much faster.
It was interesting to see Google CEO Eric Schmidt echoing this view in a speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona a few days ago; in this context look out for the mass commercialisation of voice search which will bring simple old “voice” into the internet space in a major way and could have profound implications for access to information in developing markets.
By the way, Eric summed up his speech by simply saying : “It’s our goal to make mobile be the answer to pretty much everything.”
Use it, don’t use it.
** Personal opinion based on information sharing with most of the large media owners and ad networks