The digital age is a reality, and it is evolving fast. In 2014, 96% of all non-users of the Internet were in emerging markets.
It is here that we believe mobile broadband and mobile technology, if deployed in the right way, have the potential to enhance access to this digital world and make its life-enriching benefits more inclusive for all.
The digital age requires a new approach. This is particularly true in emerging markets. We need organisations to show digital experience leadership to help people enjoy the best possible Internet experience and to make access to the digital world and its online products and services more accessible and affordable.
Yet this will not happen unless we overcome key challenges. As mobile operators work to keep pace with changing customer behaviours and new digital realities, two of the barriers to building an inclusive digital economy through mobile technology stand out for us today:
First, the lack of universal, affordable and inclusive access to mobile broadband. The next billion consumers to come online will be making their digital decisions on a mobile device. Despite the growing access to digital and mobile services, a majority of consumers are choosing not to use these services, especially in emerging markets. Why?
Common factors include the limited availability of content in local languages, low levels of digital or technological literacy and cost barriers that prevent access to relevant technologies.
In order for the digital economy to further extend its reach in developing markets, it must first be available in the local language of the people trying to access it. There needs to be growing awareness on how to use digital tools, and access to these tools must be affordable at every point - from the cost of a smartphone to the price of the mobile data service.
This is why Ooredoo champions the creation of locally-tailored solutions. In the markets we operate in throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia, we partner with local OTT providers and create local services relevant to its citizens’ needs. Such examples include the FMCG App in Algeria, ‘Telecontact’, Myanmar mobile maternal healthcare app ‘MayMay’, and micro-entrepreneur-finance tool ‘Wobe’ in Indonesia.
Second, infrastructure constraints and limitations. The digital economy can stretch beyond these life-enriching services to enable people, governments and businesses to interact and create value in new ways.
The development of smart city infrastructure is a good example of this. Building smart cities can help many emerging markets address the societal and economic problems that accompany their fast-paced development and urbanisation. Traffic congestion, waste management and resource consumption are all examples of such issues. Smart city solutions via mobile broadband can offer a way to alleviate these issues, improve people’s standard of living and even transform the economic potential of affected cities.
Smart city technologies and mobile network services also have the potential to offer solutions in times of natural disaster or humanitarian crisis. For example, responding to the devastating earthquake that took place on 25 April 2015 in Nepal, Ooredoo Group launched a series of initiatives to support the various humanitarian efforts across the markets in which it operates.
Recognising the importance of mobile communication during times of crises, Ooredoo Maldives offered calls to Nepal for free for all its customers over a three-day period. In Qatar and Oman, where, respectively, more than 400,000 and 12,000 Nepalese live, Ooredoo lowered the costs of calls to Nepal, enabling expatriates to stay in touch with friends and family back home. This situation highlighted how unique mobile solutions can enable citizens to connect, seek and receive critical information in times of need and support.
Across its global footprint Ooredoo is always looking to further refine and develop such initiatives that support the growth of the digital economy. Building on collective expertise and successes in more mature markets, such as Qatar, Ooredoo constantly works towards integrating these same lessons within the emerging markets in which it operates.
Ooredoo Mobile Money (OMM) is one such example. Developed in 2012 alongside MoneyGram and Qatar National Bank, today the service works with multiple partners globally to support 7.5 million transactions per month across four key markets: Qatar, Iraq, Indonesia and Tunisia – becoming the leading mobile financial service for customers across MENA and Southeast Asia. In 2016, the service was piloted in the Maldives, with services set to launch in Myanmar shortly.
Digital finance has the potential to provide access to financial services to over 1.6 billion people in emerging economies, with more than half being women, according to a 2016 McKinsey report. The rapid growth of digital technologies offers an opportunity to provide financial services at a much lower cost, and therefore profitably boost financial inclusion across the economy.
The OMM service helps people who do not have bank accounts or easy access to financial services, offering these underserved communities an opportunity to invest in their livelihoods, protect their assets and mitigate the problems which can cause them to fall deeper into poverty.
In short, mobile technology and its infrastructure will continue to underpin the growth of digital societies across the globe. In line with this, we expect 2017 to increase growth and foster greater inclusion and diversity both in the ways people, governments and businesses connect and in the evolution of digital services available.
We believe we play a crucial role in connecting and developing the citizens of emerging economies where we operate. Ultimately, as we adapt to the new realities of the digital age, the potential of the digital economy will be best realised by working with communities, investing in long-term infrastructure and providing a better Internet experience for all. In this way, we will take data experience leadership to deliver the very best for people around the world.
Sheikh Saud Bin Nasser Al Thani is the Group CEO of Ooredoo.