Last week, tens of thousands of participants and over 2,000 exhibitors gathered at the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona to launch and share the latest advances in mobile technology, wearables, virtual reality, gadgets, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), devices, 5G, and more.

Similar to last year, we decided to take a look at how announcements from MWC15 will impact the developing world.

1. Facebook and Google continue to spearhead ambitious initiatives to get more people across the world online.

As we shared last year, Facebook and Google continue to lead in efforts to get the next billion people around the world online.

In his keynote address, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg advocated for free basic internet services to propel mobile growth in emerging markets. Since launching at last year’s MWC, the initiative has now reached Colombia, India, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana.

Separately, Google has been experimenting with several initiatives in its connectivity strategy, including Project Loon or “floating cell towers” project, Google Fiber, and Project Titan – its drone extension of Project Loon.

Google Loon Project

Google Loon Project

Photo credit: SiliconKarne

2. Digital identity and privacy is becoming more significant for mobile consumers

When addressing the audience, GSMA Director General Anne Bouverot discussed the growing importance of digital identity.

“I think digital identity is the new frontier. This is an area where we think we need better services to access services: healthcare, payments, social networks, whatever we’re accessing on the Internet. We want to access them and prove who we are, but we don’t want to necessarily give our mobile numbers and be spammed after that. We haven’t completely found this balance yet, so stay tuned for deployment in mobile connectivity and digital identity in the year to come.” – Anne Bouverot

With mobile security concerns on the rise, this year’s Mobile World Congress also introduced smartphones with privacy in mind. For example, Brazilian phone maker Sikur introduced the GranitePhone which has encryption features designed to ease the privacy concerns of smartphone users.

Sikur GranitePhone

Sikur GranitePhone

Photo credit: Cnet

3. mHealth focus shifting to wearables
Wearable technology was a hot trend at MWC15, especially in the form of fitness trackers, smartwatches, and smartbands. For example, HTC made its big launch of the HTC Grip in partnership with Under Armour and featuring built-in GPS capabilities.

What’s ahead?

Though MWC15 covered many types of emerging technologies beyond mobile including 5G, connected devices, the internet of things, virtual reality, and other topics, the theme of the immense potential of the world’s connectivity resonated throughout the week.

According to Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia, who attend this year’s Mobile World Congress,

Technology is making real and useable internet access available to tens of millions across Africa today and if we think forward 20 years and even 10 years, we’re going to have massive connectivity to the real internet for hundreds of millions of people and this going to have an incredible impact on politics in these places, on society, on trade, and opportunities for all kinds of people.” – Jimmy Wales

What news on MWC15’s impact on developing countries did we miss? Let us know in the comments and/or tweet us @TechChange.

Interested in how MWC15 announcements are impacting Mobiles for International Development and mHealth? Register for these courses now!

Last week, the Mobile World Congress 2014 welcomed the most influential mobile carriers across the world that are shaping the future of mobile, especially for populations who are new mobile consumers. Looking back at some of the news coming from the mobile phone industry’s  largest annual event, we examine the key takeaways from this year’s MWC that will impact not just emerging markets, but also developing countries.

1. Facebook wants to bring low-cost or free internet access to Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  According to the New York Times, “For Facebook, poorer countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America represent the biggest opportunity to reach new customers, though it must figure out how to get people there online at a low cost.”

Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp is linked to the social media company’s larger initiative to partner with tech companies to have more people across the world, especially in developing countries, to be able to access the internet with a smartphone. Facebook has announced that it wants to partner with five more companies across emerging markets in 2014 to continue this initiative.

2. Mozilla’s $25 smartphone will make mobile internet access more affordable. The Mozilla Foundation has joined forces with a Chinese chipmaker, Spreadtrum Communications, to introduce a mobile device that will be sold for only $25 later in 2014. By offering this smartphone at a price point significantly lower than other major players in the smartphone market, Mozilla is aiming to cut into the smartphone dominance of Android and Apple iOS, and looking to take smartphone market share in Latin America and Africa.

3. Mobile money is growing rapidly. In a report launched this week at the Mobile World Congress, GSMA announced that mobile money reached 61 million consumers in 2013. According to the report, “At the end of 2013, nine markets, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, already had more mobile money accounts than bank accounts, compared to just four markets last year.” Mobile money is resulting in more financial inclusion across the developing world. Looking for an intro to mobile money? Check out our free self-paced online course on mobile money here.

4. mHealth innovations for developing nations will continue to be mostly SMS-focused in the short-term.  Samsung demonstrated it is moving deeper into the mHealth and wearable technology industries with last week’s launches of the Galaxy S5, which can monitor heart rate, and the Gear Fit. As we’ve seen with our earlier post with Text to Change on using mobiles for social change in developing countries, mHealth still has a long way to go in developing countries with simple SMS campaigns. Until these cheaper smartphones become more accessible to more consumers along with reliable internet connectivity as Facebook and Mozilla at MWC 2014 may promise, mHealth in developing countries will continue to focus more on text messaging.

3G Doctor shared this helpful mHealth Guide to the MWC2014. If anyone was able to attend any of these events, please share with us any insights you learned!


Interested in Mobiles for International Development and mHealth? Join our upcoming mHealth online course, which runs March 31 – April 25, 2014.