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Barriers to mobile ‘net  in Kenya, Ghana

Google surveys have identified internet speed and cost, transparency about pricing and usage as potential levers for improving mobile internet adoption in Kenya and Ghana.

Google says in its Africa blog that across Africa, mobile subscription rates have increased from 24% in 2007 to 53% in 2011 [ITU 2012]. However, while mobile phones have become commonplace, mobile Internet adoption has lagged. In 2011, for instance, mobile Internet adoption in Africa was 3.8%, compared to 54% in Europe. To better understand the nature and root causes of this dynamic,  Google partnered with iHub Research to implement field studies in Kenya and Ghana.

In Kenya, Google interviewed 82 participants over three days. Highlights from the full summary include:

  • Mobile data service cost is an important factor; however, access to a data-enabled handset appears to be a larger barrier.  Among participants who do not currently use the mobile Internet, lack of a data-enabled phone and other factors were cited more often than service cost.
  • Better understanding of mobile Internet costs may associated with less usage. Respondents who understood the relationship between the size of a webpage and the associated cost reported spending less money on mobile data. These same respondents were willing to pay less per megabyte of data than those who did not understand this relationship.
  • However, improved information about mobile data costs while browsing may increase usage. Of users surveyed, half said that they would use the mobile Internet more with improved cost management tools, 13% said they would use it less, and 32% said their usage levels would remain the same.

Google ran a similar study in Ghana in August this year. Key insights from the summary report include:

  • Mobile data users spend more money to make calls and send SMS messages than to use mobile Internet. Most users of mobile Internet (48%) spend less than GHc 5 (USD 2.50) per week on mobile data, while 28% spend less than GHc 5 on voice calls per week. Approximately half of users top up their mobile accounts daily in order to make calls and send SMS messages, compared to 37% of users who top up daily to use mobile Internet.
  • Users and non-users do not have an accurate understanding of mobile Internet costs and many believe they are billed by time. Only 19% of users were able to correctly identify which mobile Internet activities were most expensive.
  • Fewer users monitor mobile Internet spend, compared to voice/SMS balances. Nearly 75% of users keep track of their voice/SMS balances, compared to 38% who track their mobile Internet balance. Thirty-seven percent of users have accidentally spent more money than they intended on mobile Internet.
  • If mobile Internet costs were more transparent, it might encourage non-users to become mobile Internet users. Of the non-users who are already tracking voice/SMS balances, 28% responded that better knowledge of mobile Internet costs could convert them to mobile Internet users. Among users, 42% stated that they would increase their usage if they could monitor their mobile Internet expenses more easily.

Google says: “These insights are useful to Google and others who are developing solutions to help increase access to the mobile Internet. For example, in addition to speed and cost, transparency about pricing and usage emerged as potential levers for improving adoption. Using these findings, we are leading experiments in sub-Saharan Africa to learn more about how users interact with the mobile Internet and how to provide a better user experience. We hope these findings will also encourage industry, nonprofit, and government entities to collaborate on research and solutions to make the Internet more readily available to everyone, regardless of geography or income.”

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