The innovative use of mobile applications

Mobile telephony is without doubt one of the most explosive developments ever to have taken place in the telecommunications industry. For the world’s poorest countries, mobile telephony represents the best chance yet of bringing the power of telecommunications to economically disadvantaged or isolated communities.

The transformation of society by mobile telephony, and especially mobile applications, is perhaps most profound in Africa. Africa has been described as the world’s fastest-growing mobile phone market. Since 2000, mobile phone subscription has increased by over 500 percent, according to United Nations data. Today, it is estimated that 1 in 9 Africans is a mobile subscriber.

With increased mobile phone coverage and a substantial drop in the costs of mobile telephony, it is time to explore innovative uses of the mobile phone. Today, the concept of M4D, or Mobile for Development is being pioneered in a number of development circles.

With such widespread use of mobile phones, a number of services have emerged. Among them are m-internet, m-commerce, m-learning, m-banking, m-television, m-governance, and others. Each of these will be briefly described in the next two articles.

Mobile Internet is the use of the mobile phone to access the Internet, the world wide computer network which allows communication in text, image, movie , voice, animations, and programme files. Fact is, most experts see the widespread use of mobile telephony as a solution to internet connectivity challenges, especially in the developing world. It has been documented that mobile use is increasing at a faster rate than PC-based Internet.

The widespread use of mobile phones makes it appealing to deploy the Internet on the phone. Services such as wireless application protocol (WAP) allows people to access basic information on the internet, through their mobile phone handset.

Even though the use of the mobile phone is predominantly for voice services, we are beginning to see an increasing use of mobile Internet. This has made it possible for people to use the mobile phone as a multipurpose device. The age of the Internet on your phone is here.

M-commerce, generally defined as any transaction with monetary value that is conducted via a mobile telecommunications network. J.P. Morgan views it as “Business-to-consumer transactions conducted from a mobile device.”

A more detailed definition is offered by Tiwari and Base in their 2006 book titled “From Electronic to Mobile Commerce: Opportunities through Technology Convergence for Business Services. They defined m-commerce as “any transaction, involving the transfer of ownership or rights to use goods and services, which is initiated and/or completed by using mobile access to computer-mediated networks with the help of an electronic device,”

While some analysts regard mobile commerce as the “junior brother” of electronic commerce (or e-commerce), the use of the Internet to conduct business transactions, others see it as a subset of e-commerce.

The technology of using the mobile phone to purchase goods or services has been around for quite sometime. In one way or the other, most of us have made use of m-commerce without formally acknowledging or according it that status.

For example, we have used our mobile phones to purchase airline tickets, ordered food from a restaurant, made a booking at a hotel, transferred money from one account to the other, etc.

As reported by the Globe and Mail Newspaper, in Kenya today, farmers check crop prices on a mobile service; and in Ghana, Tradenet a mobile service makes it possible for market women to access the prices of market produce.

While there are challenges in the spread of m-commerce , there are a number of factors (such as the proliferation of m-commerce websites, the introduction of 3/4G-mobile phones, and the increasing penetration of mobile phones) tend to suggest that the use of mobile.

Mobile learning, or m-learning is the art of using mobile technologies to enhance the learning experience. Over the past few years, the educational community has become familiar with e-learning as a new educational tool for providing students with access to learning resources and interaction. A number of academic institutions are today experimenting with m-learning to enable them address the growing demands for higher and continuing education.

Today, mobile technologies are revolutionising education, and have transformed the traditional ways of knowledge acquisition into more flexible, ‘anytime’ , ‘anyplace’ ways of learning. In addition to the mobile phone, devices such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), computer tablets, palmtop, handheld computers, alongside other wireless communication devices are used in promoting m-learning. Such mobile devices can be used to provide wireless access to educational materials in the form of email, voice, and text messaging

The use of m-learning has made educational opportunities accessible to students who in the past lacked opportunities due to factors such as work, geographical distance, time, family responsibilities, and lack of adequate financial resources.

Also, m-learning has made it possible for learning to occur anywhere and doesn’t require concentration of building and the reliance of extensive traditional educational infrastructure (such as chalk, blackboard, power connection, etc.).

Mobile telephony can be a powerful enabler and its judicious application could help move poverty to the dustbin of history.

Dr. Osei K. Darkwa

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