For example, a fast-growing mobile phone company in Nigeria struggled to maintain electricity to the 3,600 base stations that communicate its cellular signals, the researchers say. Ultimately the company kept the mobile towers operational by deploying its own generators which burned 450 liters of diesel a second.
In sub-Saharan Africa, say the researchers, only 29 percent of roads are paved, and barely 25 percent of people have access to electricity. While it's helpful and efficient for a manufacturer to take customer orders via mobile phone, a company's production is limited by the lack of a reliable power source and access to markets.
"Also needed are appropriate policies and regulations that can promote the development of innovative mobile phone-based applications such as mobile banking services that have the potential to positively impact the economic livelihood of Africans," Mbiti says.
The researchers also cite areas where more research is needed, such as the number of direct and indirect jobs created by the cell phone industry; whether mobile phones actually drive increases in gross domestic product; accurate mobile phone penetration rates; and whether cell phones are driving consumer surpluses due to increased market competition.
While there are some limited assessments of the impact by economists in Niger, Uganda and rural South Africa, for example more research by economists is needed, say Mbiti and Aker. They hope their study will spur economists to delve deeper into the long-term impact.
Boom improves daily life
Despite the extreme poverty of many Africans, mobile phone coverage has jumped from 10 percent of the population in 1999 to 60 percent in 2008, say Mbiti and Aker. Mobile phone subscriptions have skyrocketed from 16 million in 2000 to 376 million in 2008, they say.<
|Contact: Margaret Allen|
Southern Methodist University