How can working women’s lives be transformed by mobile broadband?


It has been reported time and again that women represent an often underserved market in various product categories. One of the biggest categories that have the potential to not only pay rich dividends to corporates but also have the biggest impact on changing lives, is mobile data access. Industry estimates show that bringing 600 million additional women and girls online could boost global GDP by up to $13-18 billion. How big is the problem really? And what can be the solutions? Qualcomm Incorporated, through its Wireless Reach initiative along with Vital Wave Inc. and GSMA’s Mobile for Development (mWomen program) recently released a report on “Transforming Women’s Livelihoods Through Mobile Broadband” which delves deep into this problem statement.

The study focused on women in five countries namely Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Nigeria and conducted more than 1000 structured interviews with working women. Further, the study divided the women into Urban Entrepreneurs, Young Urban Careerists, Work & Family Warriors, Young Rurals and Rural Traditionalists.

The study revealed a few important insights:

  • 80% of working women in the study use their feature phone or smartphone for work and consider their phone an important tool for their work lives
  • 92% of working women acquired their smartphone initially to communicate with friends and family, but women tend to have blurred lines between professional and personal lives; the smartphones gradually became indispensable at work
  • 75% of smartphone users said they could not go back to using a phone without mobile broadband

As per World Bank estimates there are roughly 950 million working women in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Of these, ~800 million have yet to subscribe to mobile broadband, pointing to a massive untapped potential. However, there are some barriers for adoption, both real and perceived:

  • Lack of perceived benefit – due to the low awareness of potential uses of mobile broadband in their daily lives, they are not able to articulate benefits clearly
  • High handset cost – especially in Asian countries
  • Smartphone complexity

Specifically, working women in India seemed to be relatively slow adopters of mobile technology advancements. Although 57% of the women had bought their phones more than two years ago, more than 64% said that they plan to purchase a smartphone in the next 6-24 months, indicating a burgeoning need. Interestingly, among the five countries studied, India is among the cheapest for mobile broadband prepaid prices (11% of monthly income) and among the most expensive for smartphone cost (266% of monthly income) – indicating a clear pattern that biggest roadblock is the cost of the devices and not the cost of data access.

The report also outlines some recommendations for the Government and NGOs to work together, but also mentions specific steps that operators and equipment manufacturers can take too.

  • Expanding Internet use to show the value of internet connectivity, including in entrepreneurship and income generation
  • Reduce cash flow impact of handset purchase by using financing schemes and bundling
  • Create packages tailored to women in each of the five segments

Clearly, there is a lot that is waiting to be done. On the occasion of International Women’s Day today, are the mobile ecosystem companies listening? What do you think can be done to bring connectivity to more women? Share your thoughts!


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