Shared Phone Use

Visiting the Personal Democracy Forum I was happy to encounter several articles on mobile phone use all over the world. As we think about mobile technologies, high tech devices, applications, market places, deals among wireless carriers, and so on usually come to mind.  It was definitely refreshing to see something else.

An article I found especially interesting was “Nokia Anthropologist Shares Thoughts on Mobile Sharing” and then the related paper “Shared Phone Use.” It encompasses the shared phone practices in Uganda, as reported by Jan Chipchase, a Nokia anthropologist.

Chipchase interviewed people in a farming community, a fishing village and a small town in 2006 and found unique phone practices in those places. Among others, Chipchase revealed an informal practice of sending and receiving money through phone kiosks and networks. As the author (Chipchase, 2007, p.3) explains:

Joe lives in Kampala and wants to send his sister Vicky 10,000 Ugandan Shillings – about 4 Euros. He buys a pre-paid top up card for that amount but instead of topping up his own phone calls the local phone kiosk operator in Vicky’s village. The phone kiosk operator uses the credit to top up his own phone, takes a commission of anywhere between 10 and 30% and passes the rest onto Vicky in cash. The kiosk operator then resells the airtime at a profit (it is after all his business).   

Another very common practice in Uganda that is uncommon worldwide is “Step Messaging”, i.e., delivering text or verbal messages via shared cell phone or kiosk where the message is delivered the last mile on foot.  In Uganda it is socially acceptable to leave messages with someone else (a neighbor or kiosk operator), and by using the social hub people can connect to others without having individual devices.



1.       Chipchase affirms that people prefer to have their own mobile phone rather than borrow one and that the cost of buying one is the main barrier. If manufacturers created specific devices for shared use that somehow could have some “individual” features, i.e., people could set their devices in different ways and log in and log off, would it change consumers in Uganda’s stated preference to have an individual phone?

2.       What other research was conducted in emerging markets regarding shared phone use? Is it not economically viable?


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