Phones a bare essential for bottom of pyramid: Study

Written by Soma Das | Bangkok | Updated: Dec 15 2011, 06:15am hrs
A whopping 89% of the countrys population at the bottom of pyramid, which earn less than R100 a day, has access to a phone, with almost 80% either owning it personally or having it in the household.

This, even though over three-fourth of them have irregular or no personal income and have never been to a school or have gone to a primary school, at best. It hardly comes as a surprise then that the use of public phone among this section of population has dropped sharply to 8% from 33% three years back. However, the share of men owning a phone at 57% is more than double the share of women who possess a personal phone, according to the findings of Sri Lanka-based ICT think-tank Lirneasia.

The proportion of Indian people in this category using multiple SIMs at over 10% today is growing and has doubled since 2006. And a majority of them, that is over 70%, hold on to multiple SIM cards to get low call charges within each network, says Rohan Samarajiva, founder, Lirneasia, and former DG of telecommunications in Sri Lanka. Interestingly, access to a household phone at almost 40% is far greater than the access to any means of motorised transport at below 20%. Possession of phones has clearly overtaken radios in Indian households, with the latter at slightly over 20%.

However, that doesnt necessarily indicate the waning popularity of radio, because atleast 12% of those surveyed listened to radio on their phones. "The usage of computer in this section of population in India is very low with only 2% having used one in last year. What is striking is that this figure is lowest for India in the region, lower than even comparable figures of Bangladesh and Pakistan," said Ashok Jhunjhunwala, professor, IIT Chennai.

He adds that the same pattern is mirrored in usage of internet, where the Indian population is at the bottom with 1% using internet, half of even Bangladesh and Pakistan, where the picture is already dismal. In fact, 16% of those surveyed in India did not know what a computer is while 24% had never heard of internet.

On expected lines, all the people in this section use only pre-paid cards with top-up or scratch cards as the most preferred mode of recharge. The phone is still not substantially used for anything other than talking, with over 61% not even knowing what an SMS is. However, even within the bottom of the pyramid, 70% preferred a brand new handset and didn't opt for second hand models, shows the Lirneasia study. The average price that an Indian in this section of population shells out for his or her mobile handset is R2,250.

(Travel for the story was sponsored by Lirneasia)