Developing Economies Embrace the Mobile Internet

Access to the mobile Internet continues to grow quickly around the world, especially in developing markets, where limited fixed-line access and the relative ease of deploying mobile networks make the mobile Internet particularly well suited. In China, for example, there were 632 million Internet users as of the middle of 2014, or about 45 percent of the total population. In sub-Saharan Africa, mobile penetration is about 60 percent, compared with less than 2 percent for fixed-line access. Ultimately, entire nations in Africa will access the Internet only through mobile devices.

As mobile infrastructure is built and mobile usage increases, consumers benefit from the new services that grow up around these devices. The number of Chinese consumers using mobile devices to buy goods jumped 42 percent to 205 million in 2014. Facebook has 100 million users in Africa (50 percent penetration of connected Africans), of which 80 percent access the social network on a mobile device. With much of the continent still using 2G service, Facebook has developed technology that identifies the user’s network speed and adapts ads as needed.

One big impediment to mobile usage in developing economies has been the high price of smartphones. This is changing, and quickly. Google launched its Android One phone in India in 2014; this model retails for about $100. Another new smartphone launched in India, by Intex Technologies and its partner, Mozilla, retails for 1,900 rupees—or about $33. Xioami’s Redmi and Motorola’s Moto G devices are also lowering prices dramatically for smartphone consumers in India. Some 650 million Indians already own mobile devices, making India the second-largest mobile market globally, and the growth in smartphone ownership will pick up as affordability continues to increase.