Missed Calls, More than Smoke Signals of the 21st Century

Posted by fredericknoronha on Oct 02, 2008

Jonathan Donner has been studying mobile phone use in the developing countries for several years. We have written previously about his fascinating work on the phenomenon of missed-calls as a way of communicating.

Jonathan is a researcher in the Technology for Emerging Markets Group at Microsoft Research India in Bangalore and an astute social scientist. At MobileActive08, Donner will be speaking in a panel where participants will brainstorm innovations in social mobile marketing. Donner's blog is here. Microsoft's Unlimited Potential program is an underwriter of MobileActive08.

Donner said in a phone interview with MobileActive.org: "I started writing on [missed calls], based on being an outsider. We just simply don't use missed-calls (in the US). But if go anywhere else, particularly in the developing world, where there are pre-paid systems, and pay-as-you-go, and people really watch their minutes, you'll see it everywhere."

Missed calls are upward of 25-30% of network traffic in some markets. Operators don't get paid for those calls or now, more often, USSD call-back messages.  Originally just a cost-saving mechanism missed calls and call-me texts have evolved to a rich communication system that people use to communicate at low cost.

Donner notes: "People use this repertoire in very nuanced ways. They know whether a missed-call means 'call me back', 'pick me up', or just 'I'm thinking of you'.

He also notes the potential of using missed calls for social marketing.  We have written about the innovations of the Praekelt Foundation - another panelist -- and their use of USSD call-me messages for advertising an HIV/AIDS hotline. 

Jonathan notes that mobiles are now recognized as a phenomenon in the developing world. "NGOs, donors, bilateral institutions, and governments are quite excited that mobiles have attributes and functions that PCs don't (and vice-versa)," he says, noting that mobile phones are truly a new and exciting entrant in the ICT-for-development field that is gaining attention.

As the price of GPRS-enabled handsets becomes cheaper he expects more people to reach cyberspace via a mobile. But, cautions Jonathan, reaching the last 10-20% without mobile coverage currently is going to be the toughest. 

Listen to the entire interview with Jonathan Donner here. Jonathan's session at MobileActive08 are here.

Just make a missed-call...

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><p><br> <b><i><blockquote>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options