Mobile Data, FTW! The GSMA Development Fund Steps It Up with The Mobile Development Intelligence Database

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Jun 13, 2012

One of the issues we all struggle with as we are working in mobile tech for social change and development is the lack of reliable data on mobile use, penetration, and costs. The GSMA sells a service, Wireless Intelligence, that provides detailed data on mobile subscriptions worldwide as well as country- and carrier-based information. Unfortunately, it is priced out of reach for most NGOs and places limitations on the use of that data. The ITU that should, under its mandate, provide accurate and timely mobile data, but does not. Data from the ITU is late and often available only at a cost that is too steep for many NGOs.

Now, the GSMA Development Fund is trying to address this gap with the launch of a new date site, the Mobile and Development Intelligence (MDI) project. The MDI contains about 70 metrics and the ability to tabulate, graph, map and export the datasets with country-level dashboards for 140 developing world countries. The database aims aggregates publicly available data from sources such as the ITU, the World Bank, and that of development organizations that can supply data about their projects and organizations themselves, as well as some data from the proprietary GSMA Wireless Intelligence service.  

What is there?

MDI has a number of metrics in a variety of sectors that include the mobile industry, health, mobile money, societal metrics such as population and metrics focused on the economy. For the mobile industry,metrics include contract and prepaid connection numbers, GSM coverage by area and population, market penetration, mobile broadband upload and download speeds, and number of mobile operators. Nokia is also supplying data on the 'total cost of ownership' - an aggregate number on what a user has to spend on a phone and airtime on average to operate a phone. This is, unfortunately, an imprecise metric for organizations as they are trying to assess the cost of running mobile programs in a country.    

MDI also provides data on organizations, companies, and and their products and services that include both NGOs and development organizations as well as commercial providers. 

This, undoubtedly, could prove to be the most important aspect of the MDI that allows anyone to assess who is doing what where. 

What is missing? 

The MDI so far covers only 140 countries out of 196 (by the most generous count) countries globally. Countries represented are "developing countries" according to the site, but how that is defined is not specified. (And, under that definition we are not sure how Poland or Chile, decidedly middle-income countries are included).

There is also important data missing from its mobile metrics, most notable the costs of SMS/voice and availability and costs of mobile data services. One of the metrics for which there is very little data anywhere is the prevalence of specific operating systems and handsets, data that is available at a premium price through private vendors and that is critically important market data for any development project. Unfortunately, there is no data on devices at all in the MDI. 

Lastly, we are not thrilled with the privacy policies and terms of use stipulations of the site. Data submitted by a user can be provided to third parties for marketing, according to the privacy policy. Opt-out requires an email. All user-generated information submitted to the MDI is apparently copyrighted by the GSMA (which makes us not want to submit information). We encourage the GSMA Development Fund to adopt a stronger privacy policy and a Creative Commons license. 

What do we think? 

All in all, we think this is a great start and laudable effort; and something that we tried to do on a shoestring for a long time until we found that we could not support accurate data over time or display it well without considerable resources. We like the look and feel of the site, and while we understand that the GSMA Development Fund does not want to cannibalize its own profitable Wireless Intelligence operation, we had hoped that more data from WI would be available freely. Perfection should not be the enemy of the good but device and cost data will be critical to add for any development effort to make intelligent strategic deployment decisions.  We say, onward, MDI - keep on adding relevant data. 

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