Lessons from Bhutan

Lessons from Bhutan




Lessons from Bhutan

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When I started thinking about the Mobile 4th Wave a few years ago, I was initially focused on the western markets as it was logical that the fourth wave will arrive in these markets first. The markets were getting saturated, the voice and messaging revenue waves were in decline, and the access revenue curves were going to be under tremendous margin pressure. The situation was going to be exacerbated by the economic doldrums in Europe as well.

However, one of the pleasant surprises was the speed with which the emerging markets were ramping up on the 4th wave of mobile with new applications and solutions. So, it was a great honor and privilege to work with the ITU/UN on the request of Government of Bhutan to lead a project to help formulate Bhutan’s national mobile apps policy and strategy. There aren’t many nations who think about a national mobile apps strategy. Bhutan is a very young democracy with a progressive regulatory regime (BICMA). The 205 villages in 20 districts are separated by massive mountainous terrain and the most critical national infrastructure is mobile. For government-to-citizen communication, mobile forms the lifeline to remote areas beyond Thimphu, the nation’s capital. It is no surprise that in a matter of few years, the mobile penetration has reached over 75% while fixed penetration languishes below 4% (the Internet penetration is 26%).

We were tasked with identifying the top four most important application areas that will serve the Bhutanese people the most. The team was also to advice on developing a framework where such mobile applications can thrive and prosper. We met with almost all the important ministries in a short amount of time (a similar endeavor in the western world would have taken months) and quickly came to the conclusion that the areas that matter the most to Bhutan and where something tangible can be accomplished are health, finance and banking, agriculture, and emergency and disaster management. Bhutan is the only country that puts Gross National Happiness (GNH) ahead of GDP, so our mobile apps framework needed to satisfy the GNH requirements as well. The chosen application areas satisfied this key criteria for the GNH council. It also needed to fit within the national ICT roadmap

Indeed some of these areas are important to other emerging markets as well and disciplines of health and emergency are important to any nation. In fact, it is surprising that the governments around the world don’t have a comprehensive national mobile apps strategy for health and emergency – something that governments are responsible for. It is not overly burdensome to implement a national emergency plan that has mobile at the center of it for interacting with accurate information can help save lives.

Same goes for healthcare. In fact, Bhutan has already built a mobile based home-grown health emergency system that served the country. This is something that other nations should embrace. My colleague on the project Dr. S.K. Misra, who is a leading global expert in telemedicine having worked on several UN and WHO assignments around the world had already helped set up a telemedicine facility in Bhutan that let the doctors to consult their colleagues in India. Dr. Misra was the author of the mHealth section of the report. Sameer Sharma, Senior Advisor at the ITU based out of Bangkok, provided valuable policy guidance.

As part of the project, we produced “Bhutan Project Report on Emerging Mobile Applications Opportunity,” a report that is serving as a blueprint for the mobile application development in Bhutan. My thanks to the ITU and the Bhutanese government for making the report available last month so that other governments and groups might find it useful.

The 4th wave is about applications, solutions, and services that can not only help create new markets and expand the existing ones to directly contribute to the global GDP. But it is also about solutions that impact day-to-day lives of billions of citizens. It is about building the apps, computing, and communications infrastructure that becomes the backbone of the nation in the new digital economy. The nations who “get” that and are able to navigate the turbulent digital waters are better positioned competitively for the next few decades.

I am heading to Hanoi next week to work with the ITU and meet with the regulators, telecom operators, and developers in South-East Asia to discuss how they should think about the 4th wave of mobile and develop applications that become an essential part of the national commerce and support infrastructure.

We will go into much more detail on how 4th wave is impacting the mobile and economic landscape and the opportunities that are emerging as a result at our annual mobile executive summit – Mobile Future Forward on Sept 10th

We will be keeping a close eye on the trends in the wireless data sector in our blog, twitter feeds, future research reports, articles, and our annual thought-leadership summit – Mobile Future Forward. The next US Wireless Data Market update will be released in August 2013. The next Global Wireless Data Market update will be issued in August 2013.

Disclaimer: Some of the companies mentioned in this research are our clients.