Thursday, May 23, 2013


It was a sign of the times.

Last week Samsung launched their much awaited Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone. The S3 was already a revelation but barely two years later the South Korean company has launched an upgraded version that can all but bend this way and that and sing the third stanza of the national anthem in Korean.

A presentation of the phone’s new features lasted the better part of an hour and during all that time not a peep about the phone’s voice functionality. Makes you wonder why we still call them phones?

When current Bobby Collymore took over at the helm of Kenyan telecom giant Safaricom a few years ago he said that data services is where the business will be and that a time was coming when voice will be given away free of charge by telecom companies.

The company’s latest results point to that reality. In 2012 while revenues from voice almost touched a billion dollars, non-voice revenue came in at just under $500m but had grown by 29% from the previous year. Voice revenues grew by 13% during the same period.

Assuming both services continue growing at the same rate, in five year’s time both revenue streams will be at par. Of  course the bulk of non-voice revenues comes from M-Pesa, the money transfer part of the business.

A friend is currently touring in Europe and at the end of her day she posts pictures of what she has seen. The clarity of the pictures is such that I had to ask whether she was using her phone or not.

During the aforesaid Samsung presentation the company officials unveiled a new application in the phone which would allow up to seven phone holders to share the same music simultaneous. If you turned up the volume on all seven you would have literal surround sound system.

If ever one needed a real life example of creative destruction,  a reference to capitalism’s tendency to destroy and rebuild in order to progress, one need not look any further than  mobile telephones. They are changing the way we do things, closing down whole industries and creating new opportunities.

 There was a time when the telephone, the fax machine, the computer were three distinct devices. No not only do you find all these functions in one phone today but in addition you can have a camera, video and voice recorder, music player and radio all in the palm of your hand.
The destructive aspect of this development is quite obvious.

The music industry is suffering. Why should I get a CD or a CD player for that matter when I can download music onto my phone from the internet? What about the recreation camera industry – the mobile phone must have had something to do with the bankrupting of the industry icon Kodak recently. The financial industry will have to think long and hard otherwise there is a real danger of extinction. Now there is something called crowd funding, where people from around the world connected by the internet and source funds and provide funds to absolute strangers to further their businesses.

A report recently showed that there are up to eight million mobile accounts in Uganda, compare this with the five million accounts in our banking industry. And the amount of money being held in accounts for 30 days or more is rising.

This will have far reaching implications for many companies—If your business is cameras or fax machines or voice recorders you will want to think long and hard about the future.

Most importantly these phones will increase worker productivity and lower the cost of doing business. This could mean higher incomes for workers, more economic activity for economies and more people jumping out of poverty.

It is inevitable. You are not rich as you can because you do not know something. Some people are richer than others because they know more. The evolution of the phone to beyond a mode of communication is bridging information gaps wherever they pop up.

The question then will be how do you take advantage of this revolution. It will have to begin with embracing the technology, integrating them in our lives and being ready to do away with old ways of doing things.

Easier said than done, but there is really no choice.

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