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HERE, THERE, AND EVERYWHERE: The Cell Phone at the Bottom of the Pyramid

By Craig Charney | Newsletter Clip | December 5, 2009

The cell phone explosion is reshaping the developing world – including the world of market research. Now 60% of the world’s population – 4.1 billion people – has access to a cell phone, compared to just 15% in 2002, the United Nations reported in March.  Seven years ago, the number of cell phones in use was equal to the number of landlines.  Now there are more than three times as many mobile phones as landlines.  Their impact is greatest by far in emerging markets around the globe

While rich countries’ telephone markets have been saturated, telephone development in industrializing countries on every continent has been staggering. In Mexico, for instance, household phone penetration soared from 20% in 2000 to 77% in 2007. In Algeria, it went from 6% in 2000 to 72% in just six years later.  In Indonesia, it climbed from 4% in 1999 to reach an estimated 80% this year.

Even in the poorest countries, telephone growth has been prodigious.  Mauritania (West Africa) has a per capita GDP of $847, making it 133rd on the World Bank’s league table of 170 countries. Yet it went from 1 phone per 100 people in 2000 to 43 by 2007. In the world’s two largest markets – China and India – phone penetration is projected to reach 60% in 2010 and 50% in 2012 respectively.  

The implications of these developments for market research are huge. Till now, research in developing countries required huge sums and weeks of face-to-face interviewing in countries where educated interviewers were scarce and transport slow and costly. Now, it’s becoming possible to call respondents in many emerging markets with CATI (computer assisted telephone interviewing) systems almost as quickly and easily as in rich countries. Soon, web-enabled phones will let developing-country respondents take online surveys, too.  Where governments bar pollsters from asking sensitive political questions, it will be possible to get around them by calling from phone banks outside the country.  

Now that the telephone reaches all the way to the bottom of the pyramid, a new age of market and political research is beginning!

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