does africa have an sms crisis?
Joshua Goldstein thinks so:
It would be easy to conclude that Africa is entering the golden age of mobile innovation. In Kenya, mPesa, a Safaricom service, allows users to send money anywhere in the country via mobile phone at very low rates. Next door in Uganda, rural users out of reach of the Internet can use a new SMS-based service from MTN, Grameen Foundation and Google to trade goods, search the Internet and query local reproductive health and agriculture information.
These services, however, represent a trickle of innovation where there should be a downpour. The source of this sluggishness is the structure of African mobile phone networks, which discourage entrepreneurs from quickly and cheaply creating, testing and deploying applications.
Mobile networks are costly in Africa. The price of sending SMS texts is kept high by a combination of high taxes, interconnection fees and network provider choice. And because mobile networks are closed, no one can deploy a new application without the network expressly adding it to a consumer package.
Meanwhile, this week's Economist cover story highlights mobile-based banking for the poor, using Kenya's mPesa as an example.
Tech types, what do you think? Is the innovation Goldstein notes elsewhere (and in Uganda) likely to spread in Africa? Can the barriers to more expansive mobile-based banking be removed? By whom?