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[liberationtech] [TIER] smartphone usage in africa

Katy Pearce katycarvt at
Tue Aug 16 21:27:01 PDT 2016

Also for what it's worth, surveying in much of Africa is incredibly
challenging for a variety of reasons. I'd be cautious in trusting it.

On Tue, Aug 16, 2016, 9:23 PM Chris Csikszentmihalyi <robotic at>

> Hi Arjuna,
> Just a quick note that usage can be quite different across Africa: it's a
> big country! [sic]. So by rural; urban; income; gender, phone ownership is
> only one aspect of an individual's use strategy. Don't assume that an owned
> smart phone is on, charged, or connected to data, indeed it is probably
> being used very differently than a North American or European might expect.
> A lot of Africa ICT infographics use ITU figures, which tend to be very
> boosterish, citing for instance sim subscriptions rather than the much
> smaller number of active users. This works well for the telcos, who want to
> look big, and for the ministers of communication, who want to look
> "developed." But even if you project active users, these figures can still
> be pretty misleading. Many urban professionals will have multiple sim
> phones, or simply multiple phones, in order to allow cheaper in-network
> calls with friends/colleagues with different providers. How many North
> Americans or Europeans use multiple sims every day? I've seen many
> journalists and scholars conflate subscriptions with people.
> One way we tried to reconcile the figures with what we saw in the field
> was to divide the ITU's reported total of a country's voice minutes by
> population. This was back of envelope -- don't cite me and do correct me if
> I'm wrong -- but from what we saw in 2012, Kenyans spent an average of 3.5
> minutes per week in a voice call, Ghanaians 3, Nigerians 1. These are most
> people's primary phones, and this is average not the median, so given
> income distributions it would be safe to imagine that something like 80% of
> the population is far lower. In most of the countries I've been to telco
> data packages are pretty expensive, and edge/3g/4g networks are worse than
> GSM. So in a rural area there may be no data available, but you'll still
> see some smart phones. Add to that the problem of charging outside urban
> areas, and many users simply carry a powered off phone without credit. In
> rural Uganda, where I'm working, when a farmer has to make a call, s/he
> travels kilometers to a shop to charge and purchase credits. Why tie up
> your money in credits that might devalue? But this strategy means that one
> is generally not available for received calls/texts.
> Why have a smart phone if you aren't really connected to data? For
> instance, there are big bluetooth/sd card movie/music trading networks. An
> Xiao Mina found folks with dubbed martial arts movies that had been passed
> by hand for long distances [
>]. Susan Wyche
> also wrote about some of the patterns of use in (iirc) Kenya in ""Dead
> China-make" phones off the grid: Investigating and designing for mobile
> phone use in rural Africa."
> All of which is to say that the Pew figures are probably correct, but
> parsing their meaning requires quite a bit of local knowledge. If anyone
> can get deeper figures on data usage, background data usage, time powered
> on, etc, I'd be excited to see them.
> C.
> --
> Chris Csikszentmihályi
> ERA Chair & Scientific Director
> Professor
> [image: m-itiLogo] <>
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> | csik at | <>
> * "Art means… to resist the course of a world that unceasingly holds a gun
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> --Theodore Adorno*
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