If you’ve been following our blog and social media over the past few months, you know our mission is to close the digital divide. We want everyone to have access to digital services and eliminate the division of the digital haves and have-nots.

In pursuit of this goal, we need to achieve three objectives:

  1. Continue driving innovation in mobile tech products with a specific focus on emerging markets.
  2. Help carriers evolve their business models.
  3. Spark transformation in public services and government regulation.

I’ve written before about the first two. Today I want to share my thoughts on the latter.

When it comes to the (mobile) digital revolution, national governments play an essential role. They provide access to network spectrum, regulate and support the industry, and can accelerate innovation. The latter takes two forms: encouraging innovation through subsidies and special government programs, and modernizing public services. Together with our partners, we are committed to helping transform public services.

Governments are often involved in critical services that have far-reaching effects when something goes wrong: healthcare, public safety, national security, infrastructure, and so on. With these kinds of activities, stability and security are more important than “go fast and break things”—the mantra of many startups in Silicon Valley. Nevertheless, there are technological innovations that have matured and that can be leveraged by governments around the world to improve their public services. Mobile internet is one of them.

Why is mobile connectivity such a massive opportunity?

  1. You can reach everyone, everywhere. Mobile networks are often the only way for people in rural areas to reach the internet. Previously they had to travel to an internet café; today, having a mobile phone with internet access in your pocket removes this barrier and gives people access to critical information like weather, market prices, and so on.
  2. It facilitates faster and more convenient two-way interactions between government and citizens.  Anything from health programs to disaster prevention and relief can be done faster, cheaper, and more efficiently through the mobile internet.
  3. Deployment and maintenance of apps is relatively straightforward, meaning digital public services can easily be maintained and upgraded over time.  For example, in many countries, access to financial services is sparse outside of urban areas. Digital banking solves this issue and gives users possibilities for savings and access to loans, regardless of their location.
  4. Mobile devices have evolved from communication devices to in-pocket computers(e.g., GPS, biometrics, Wi-Fi, NFC payments).  These improvements expand the scope and quality of available services. For example, in India, the JioPhone is not just a tool for communication, access to content, and entertainment; its NFC capabilities help small businesses to leverage it as a Point of Sale device to conduct payments with customers.

While many public services in matured markets have gone digital, riding the gigantic wave of smartphone popularity, many developing markets still lag behind in this area because of the limited penetration of smart devices. Many people still own basic voice phones with few features, or no phone at all. This low penetration of connected devices limits the potential and  accelerates the need for effective mobile services.

Changing this is what we at KaiOS are striving for, alongside our partners. Our operating system powers devices nearly as affordable as basic feature phones, yet loaded with all the essential capabilities one can expect from a smartphone.

This shift is essential; research from the GSMA and the UN in 2017 still predicts it will take until 2040 to get everyone connected. This prediction was based on the fact that until the middle of last year people had just two choices: basic voice feature phones or expensive smartphones. Now there is a third option: affordable smart feature phones.

While it’s too early to make exact predictions, the adoption rate of smart feature phones in countries like India is astonishing – lead by the KaiOS-powered JioPhone – and forecasts from markets in other Asian countries and Africa look promising.

If the pace of this roll-out continues as expected, the digital landscape in emerging markets will completely change in a matter of a few years, not decades. Instead of having to wait until 2040 to connect the last billion people, soon everyone will be connected at an affordable rate and with an advanced digital device.

This change opens up opportunities for governments and other social organizations to bring many public services online, as they will now be able to reach all the people, instead of just a select few.
In the next installment of this article series, we will look at specific examples of what such a digitalization of government and other social services might look like. We’ll do this by looking at examples of what’s happening in India because of the success of the JioPhone, the e-government setup in Estonia, and how Twitter has transformed a town in Spain.

Come meet the KaiOS team at AfricaCom, Cape Town, South Africa during Nov 13 – 15 and join our keynote session to discuss more of our vision and how we can support initiatives that will drive innovation in Africa.