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[liberationtech] [TIER] smartphone usage in africa

Katy Pearce katycarvt at
Tue Aug 16 21:29:04 PDT 2016

I wrote this piece a few years back, may be of interest...

On Tue, Aug 16, 2016, 9:27 PM Katy Pearce <katycarvt at> wrote:

> 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>
> wrote:
>> 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] <>
>> ------------------------------
>> | csik at | <>
>> * "Art means… to resist the course of a world that unceasingly holds a
>> gun to mankind's chest."
>> --Theodore Adorno*
>> --
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