The impact of the mobile phone

The ubiquitous mobile phone has not only made a significant impact on our lives, it has helped to raise the gross domestic product level of developing markets.
Written by Isabelle Chan, Contributor on
commentary I bought my first mobile phone almost a decade ago. Back then, I was one of those people who carried it in their bag but kept it switched off. I was conscious about showing it off in public and figured that by having it turned off, I could keep my mobile phone bill low.

So why did I buy one? I figured that a mobile phone would come in handy in emerging situations like getting a flat tire while driving on the expressway, or getting stranded with no transportation, in some deserted industrial estate on a raining day.

But today, I don't think twice about making a phone call on my mobile. I keep the device switched on all the time, even when I go to bed. And while I'm waiting for a friend or a bus, or stuck in line at the automated teller machine, my first instinct is almost always to pick up the mobile to keep busy. I while my time away by sending a text message to a friend or my significant other (just to say hello), playing a game, or surfing the Web.

The mobile phone has indeed become a ubiquitous device. And there is no need to feel conscious about using a mobile phone because it is everywhere: in someone's hand, on the table, hanging from a lanyard around someone's neck, hooked to a belt. Some even answer their phones while sitting in a toilet cubicle!

According to the latest figures from Informa Telecoms & Media, it's just over 26 years since the first cellular network was launched, and worldwide mobile subscriptions will hit a whopping 3.3 billion this year. That is equivalent to 50 percent of the digital population.

Informa also estimates that as of the end of September, there were operational networks in 224 countries, up from 192 in 1991 and 35 in 1987.

Mobile's social impact
The social impact of the mobile phone is undeniable. The mobile phone's SMS function has made it an excellent communication tool for the hearing impaired, but there are also examples of bad usage, like asking for a divorce via SMS.

What was first considered a luxury item is now a necessity in our everyday lives. The mobile phone ranks right up there with the wallet, as items that I can't leave home without. And if I did, well, I would feel something amiss and it would completely throw my day off.

The mobile phone also lets me do a lot more than make phone calls, play games and take photos. For example, OCBC Bank in Singapore has turned the mobile phone into a two-factor authentication device for Internet banking transactions. Newer mobile phones are also starting to incorporate GPS navigation, and wireless payment is emerging.

Even healthcare providers have found a great use for the mobile phone. Singapore General Hospital is trialing a system that enables patients with chronic diseases like heart failure and gestational diabetes to better manage their health. Patients send their vital signs and symptoms to their doctors via an Internet portal or SMS, where the latter has proved to be popular as there is virtually no learning curve. Doctors can also send urgent messages to a patient via SMS, instead of waiting for the patient to log in to the Internet.

But the mobile phone is not only a great invention, it has made a huge economic impact.

According to a McKinsey research brief, the economic impact of all wireless activity in countries like China, India and the Philippines is "up to four times the value of the wireless operators alone".

The report goes on to note: "Much of this value appears to come from the productivity gains and economic surplus that wireless customers receive simply by using their mobile phones."

A study by Nokia Siemens Networks also found that for most developing countries, an increase of 10 percent in the mobile penetration rate translates to a 0.6 percent increase in the gross domestic product (GDP).

Analysts say the positive economic benefits of higher mobile phone penetration is a strong reason for regulators and operators to get the mobile phone into the hands of the broader population in developing markets, including lower-income groups and rural communities.

I'm sure this will happen soon enough. The mobile phone as we know it today will also continue to evolve. Already, Android, Google's open-source mobile phone platform, is stirring up the mobile market.

The next big thing is just a leap away.

Editorial standards