On Friday, 23 May Mr. Guy Collender published through the Guardian, Society an opinion piece considering how mobile technology is benefiting some of the world’s poorest. Left at that, this is not a rare piece of writing to come by these days. But what made the story “Talking about a revolution” conspicuous for me was the fact that it featured Movirtu‘s MXShare — a fascinating technology I came across recently at the Africa Gathering in London.
I completely agree with Mr. Collender that, “At first glance it is a peculiar and nonsensical idea: owning a mobile phone number, but not a mobile phone.” And even though the immediate benefits of the idea are that it could enable the bottom billion (i.e. the 1 billion people living on less than $2 a day) “to enjoy the benefits associated with a mobile phone number, such as receiving messages and remittances,” I think it could have much wider and far-reaching consequences.
The MXShare concept, installed in the core of a mobile network, enables individuals to share a mobile phone while maintaining separate identities, including a phone number, list of contacts, etc. MXShare makes this possible by creating a virtual mobile system, embedded within an operator’s switching centre.
MXShare’s obvious caveat is that it is not operator agnostic. Many people working in development would consider this an insurmountable drawback, particularly because mobile phone information systems tend to be implemented on a fairly small scale, by NGOs and development organisation, who find it a challenge to get the interest and collaboration of large (read popular) GSM operators.
Although I can see MXShare’s operator dependance as a hindrance to its adoption, I personally am much more intrigued by the possibilities and challenges which the technology concept opens up.
The possibilities stem from the prospect of attaching a fixed identity to mobile phone users. Identifying people is still a challenge in the online world of the Internet but increasingly users of various online services are identified only by their email address and a password. Movitu’s MXShare opens the door to similar solutions to the identification problem in the world of mobiles, a world which is currently hyping about mobile-Web integrated services. Besides allowing people who live on less than $2 a day to receive remittances, the technology can be used as a gateway for the introduction of mobile-Web enabled devices in the developing world. And needless to say, alongside the better devices will come the better services — better m-health, better m-learning, and last but not least, better m-commerce.
For mobile market information services, particularly ones relying on user-generated content, the possibilities offered by identification are considerable. The ability to trace back to its author content of the “classified ad” style, submitted to user-generated content services will increase their appeal. Moreover, it could lead to improvements in the legal framework which would give legitimacy to agreements reached via mobile phone.