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EDITOR’S BLOG 26-11-15 Healing handsets

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Hello and Happy Thursday! It may come as a surprise, but telecoms has the power to make the world a better place. No, not just because your mother can now text you wherever you are, not because you can talk to someone while simultaneously checking your friends on Facebook. No, telecoms has the power to help because it has empowered some of the most impoverished people on the planet.

While there has been much to say about how telecos can act as a break on development, especially of services and markets in developed countries such as the UK (MNOs: I’m looking at you), in developing countries they can actually make people’s lives better.

The poster boy for this true digital transformation has long been M-Pesa: we all know the story of the man who had to travel for two days by bus with his takings in a carrier bag only to be robbed en route before mobile money made his life immeasurably better and safer. But in a very real sense, telecoms has brought so many people into the world of financial inclusion.

As research by Juniper points out, microfinance user numbers in developing regions, including Africa & India, will triple from 94 million in 2015 to 283 million by 2020. This means that millions more people can tap into loans.

On the face of it – and following the 2008 crash in the developed world’s banking system – you may wonder if that is such as good thing, but offering small, affordable loans is the capitalist bedrock that drives growth and development. It actually makes lives better. It puts banks money back into local economies.

But this is nothing new. International calls have long been tariffed so that money moves from rich countries to poor countries. That is why it is so expensive – or used to be at least – to call overseas from the UK: the difference in cost was supposedly passed on to the foreign networks to invest in upgrading and improving services and infrastructure.

That never quite worked – many governments in poor countries stole the money – but the principle was good.

And it still continues. As Josef BruckSchlogl from Kwak Telecom, Tim Williams from Felix and Eric Pommeroy from AribbaCom told delegates at World Telemedia in Prague, IPRN is still a force for good in transforming these countries.

And the good work continues: IPRN is being used to carry and terminate Skype calls and other OTT messaging services in developing countries. Continuing the influx of money into these countries while also letting them leverage the business power of services such as Skype and Google and more.

So while the UK’s MNOs fret about brand damage (try charging me the best part of £200 for a ton of text messages home while I was in Singapore that weren’t delivered until I was, err, home for brand damage!) and fret over how to make charge to mobile work without upsetting anyone, think about how telecoms can he used for good and how, done right and with insight and panache, it can make lives better. There’s a nice cheery thought for you. Normal ranting service will resume next week.

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