Life in a handheld world

I’ve really getting neurotic about mobile phones. Not so much in developing for them or their being the new-new data platform but mainly due to the fixation in how Africa is the fastest growing mobile market in the world. Yes, it’s true, but that’s because penetration is so low, whereas in North America of Europe, the market is saturated already.

I’ve said it before but the growth figures are way out of line. I have two numbers with two different carriers here in Côte d’Ivoire: Orange and Moov. I have to have both of these numbers as at any given point at least one of them is without a signal and that is often when standing directly below a tower. The networks are overloaded.

This last week put me over the top when both phones were without data access and voice at various points with 2-3 hour delays on SMS’s. It makes people pouting about 3G access on their iPhone seem paltry. Although, after talking to a friend of a friend who was in Myanmar for the last three years, the networks here are blissful by comparison.

I’m seriously thinking about getting a third and looking like a true idiot with all these devices dangling off of me. But, it’s the case that the mobile systems here, as in many parts of Africa (I’ve personally experienced the same problems in Ghana as well as Congo) are purely set up for the extraction of wealth. What mining and rubber harvest was to Sub-Saharan Africa during Colonial times, the mobile phone industry is to Modern times. Put in as little money as possibly to get out as much as possible. This explains why there are so many mobile players out there and they all offer pretty much the same kind of deal–a less than stellar one.

Sure, the market will continue to grow and with every person getting two or three numbers, it’s going to look huge. But, for anyone actually using the networks on the ground, they leave a great deal to be desired, no matter how large and pretty their billboards down in Zone Quatre appear.