An Upwardly Mobile Indonesia

Innovative uses for mobile phones will reshape the world, says Andreas Rothe 

Seven out of 10 Indonesians own a mobile phone number. In many European and Arabic countries, as well as in the US and Malaysia, there are even more SIM cards than inhabitants now. A leader in this regard is the United Arab Emirates, which has a “mobile teledensity” of 232 percent. This means that, statistically, every Emirati, from newborns to the elderly, has more than two mobile phone subscriptions.

Indonesia is not yet that oversupplied with SIM cards. However, the importance of mobile communication is obvious. While only about 9 percent of the Indonesians have access to the internet, mobile phones are used by nearly three-quarters of the population. The worldwide situation is similar: mobile phones have become the number-one communications technology, leaving the internet, with only about a third of users, far behind.

In particular, countries that do not have a strong infrastructure of fixed line phones and internet lines – often due to the size of the country or the dispersion of people in different regions, or also, as in Indonesia’s case, islands – show great growth in mobile subscriptions. The reasons are simple: buying a mobile phone is a lot cheaper than buying a computer and subscribing to an internet service, and reaching into your pocket is much more comfortable than searching for an internet café. Over the last five years, the number of mobile telecommunication users in Indonesia rose by about 27 percent – each year.

These numbers show that, when talking about the development of new media and technologies, one cannot focus only on the internet, which is always omnipresent in these discussions, but instead or at least additionally have a look at mobile phones – a technology that is truly omnipresent in the world.

Mobile users are not only able to communicate with their family and friends, but also organise business and other affairs much easier. Fishermen can call different harbours to see where they will get the best price for their fish while still at sea; nurses in remote areas can send examination results directly to central hospitals and receive advice the same way. Recipients of media can raise their voice and have their say in call-in shows or by SMS. But there is still a wide window of technical opportunities, so developers worldwide are busy creating applications and contents to make the most of this anytime-anywhere technology.

For that reason a new international award was created, especially for mobile contents and applications. The World Summit Award Mobile Content (WSA-mobile) will be organised as the newest spin-off of the UN supported group of World Summit Awards, which also includes the World Summit Youth Award, especially designed for young developers.

WSA-mobile itself is organised in close cooperation with its key partner, the Abu Dhabi Systems & Information Centre. The award’s categories – stretching from m-Business and m-Entertainment to m-Learning and m-Health – show the diverse opportunities of using mobiles, be it mobile internet on smart phones or basic services like text messaging.

One service that demonstrates these advantages is TradeNet/Esoko, a World Summit Award Winner of 2009. Esoko is a Ghana-based market information platform available via SMS and mobile phones. It covers key market information like selling and buying offers, current market prices, crop news, marketing and policy documents and profiles of farmers and traders. It now links buyers and sellers in nine African countries.

The prospects of mobile business has also been recognised in India, where ngpay, the country’s first mass-market mobile commerce service, was created. Consumers all over India are able to bank, pay bills, book tickets, make donations, shop, order food and more. They simply have to download and install a 64kb application to their mobile handset.

Another innovative concept is the mobile application Royal Court Affairs from Oman, a mobile evaluation system which allows job applications through text messages. In less than 10 seconds the applicant’s CV is compared with the requirements of the vacancy. If it matches, the applicant is short-listed and invited for an interview. What took hours and days of manpower in the past can now be achieved in the blink of an eye.

But simple mobile systems can even save lives: The service mPedigree, also developed in Ghana, shall helps to distinguish between counterfeit drugs and real medicine using a scratch-off panel on the packaging, which reveals a code that can be checked using a simple SMS. No download or installation is needed – thus the system works on every mobile phone and can prevent people in remote areas from taking useless or even harmful drugs. Like the other examples mentioned, mPedigree is one of the World Summit Award Winners of 2009 that inspired the creation of WSA-mobile.

To ensure applications from all areas, WSA-mobile has named national experts in countries all around the world. Until September 10, they will be evaluating the best in mobile content in their country and submitting them for the worldwide contest. Responsible for the pre-selection in Indonesia is Shinta Dhanuwardoyo, CEO of the Telkom subsidiary Mojopia and member of the Software Association of Indonesia (ASPILUKI). Cooperation with Mobile Monday Indonesia, the Indonesia ICT awards, the Bubu Awards and similar organisations assures scouting for the best players in the industry. However, developers can still suggest their project themselves to Ms. Dhanuawardoyo.

Being chosen is a great opportunity, since the winners will be invited to the WSA-mobile Winner Event on December 6-8 in Abu Dhabi. During that event they will not only be able to present their project to an international audience, but also network and build professional relationships with their outstanding colleagues from around the world. Exchanges of this type are crucial to ensuring that good ideas on how to use mobiles do not stay in one region or country as they can flourish and bring good to other corners of the world.

Personal contacts will help to establish professional cooperation as well as friendships – the internet and mobile phones will ensure that these relations remain intact. Indonesia should make sure it is part of this.

The author has worked with the United Nations Information Service as well as with the International Center for New Media, based in Austria.


World Summit Award Mobile Content (WSA-mobile) categories
1. m-Business & Commerce
2. m-Government & Participation
3. m-Learning & Education
4. m-Entertainment & Lifestyle
5. m-Tourism & Culture
6. m-Media & News
7. m-Environment & Health
8. m-Inclusion & Empowerment

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