The story starts in Bangkok, where Stephen Elop enters a small retail booth just two weeks ago. Inside, the walls are covered in strips of paper with long numbers on them. What’s going on here?
The long numbers are telephone numbers, of course. People can go in and buy a mobile phone and a number and suddenly they are a member of the digital economy.
“You may not have a driver’s license, a passport, or even a birth certificate — these classic markers of identity have come to symbolize privileged admission to many aspects of the global economy,” said Stephen. “But to gain access to the digital economy, all you need is a phone number and a mobile device.”
The next billion will join the digital age far faster than the first billion, gaining access to a level of information and communication that was previously reserved for the middle class or, in the case of cloud computing, enterprises.
Nokia has been involved in this for 25 years, of course. And while it’s very often the Lumia range that gets many of the headlines, Stephen says the company is extremely proud of its Mobile Phones business that makes very affordable first, feature and smartphones.
This dramatic, high-speed change to people’s capabilities isn’t without challenges, of course. Stephen picks out three, in particular.
- How can we provide customers with affordable ways to access content and data?
- How can we help everyone gain access to the power of the app economy?
- There’s also a discovery challenge. How can we help new entrants to the digital world find content that’s relevant to them?
These are three challenges that Nokia has been working very hard to solve for the next billion consumers.
Not everyone can afford a traditional data plan. By the same token, network operators have their own constraints. In the busy, highly populated cities where the next digital revolution is happening, they don’t have the infrastructure to get everyone connected at the same time.
“Nokia’s approach to help address network constraints is to make the Internet experience smarter,” says Stephen.
This is where cloud computing is coming to the rescue. Nokia Xpress Browser has been used by more than 70 million people over the last 12 months. People who need an internet solution that sips at data allowances rather than guzzles. It also allows operators to make their customers happy without overloading their infrastructure.
“The app economy story is often a story of vast numbers: the number of apps available, the downloads and the user figures.”
But what actually matters when it comes to apps? Certainly, it’s not six-or-seven-figure numbers. What customers actually require is a great quality experience that has relevance to what they want to do with the data on their phones.
Content you can use
Nokia’s tailored content that’s relevant to local audiences is one step towards a solution. Nokia has so far allowed close to 100 million people try out its Nokia Life package, an SMS-based service that gives users personally and geographically customised information, news and entertainment.
Today Nokia announces the fifth country to get the Nokia Life. Following successful rollouts in India, China, Indonesia and Nigeria, Kenya will soon gain access to the service.
The final part of the puzzle addressed in Stephen’s keynote is the challenge of discovery. It’s hard for many to remember what it was like when we first accessed the Internet. And in any case, the Net was a lot smaller back then.
Today, when people first get online it can be totally overwhelming. They have no idea where to go next. Or where to find anything that’s useful to them. The farthest a lot of people get to is Facebook.
So how can we help them? With curated, locally meaningful content. The Xpress Browser knows where you are and what language you speak from the details of the network connection you’re using. It can use that to put together an intelligent package of content and to sniff out local places using Nokia Nearby.
The great opportunity
“Connecting the next billion is a huge undertaking,” said Stephen.
“The real challenge, and thus opportunity lies, in getting the consumer experience right and making the costs of entry affordable to the individual.”