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Silicon Valley, CA – American internet giants such as Facebook and Mozilla are vying for world domination as more people in the developing world gain access to mobile phones. The world is witnessing an epochal “global rebalancing,” with higher growth in at least 40 poor countries helping lift hundreds of millions out of poverty and into a new “global middle class.” This new and growing middle class demands mobile phones.

There are about 5.4 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, with 483 million subscriptions from low-income countries and 2.6 billion from lower-middle-income countries. There are even 80 million mobile phone users in places where there is no access to the electrical grid. And because mobile phones have low infrastructure requirements, are easier to use, and are more affordable than other communication devices, mobile phone subscriptions in developing countries outpace those in developed countries. However, the kinds of phones being bought and used are the less sophisticated ones.

In 2011, Facebook launched its “Facebook for Every Phone” application. Facebook collaborated with many carriers worldwide to enable its social networking service to be featured on over 3,000 kinds of phones, ranging from the simple and cheap to the more capable and expensive. In July 2013, Facebook announced that more than 100 million people are using the Facebook for Every Phone app every month. Profits from advertising are minimal for the time being, but Facebook is looking at the long-term potential after it establishes itself as the main marketing connection between consumers and producers in the developing world.

“In a lot of foreign markets, people think that the Internet is Facebook,” said Clark Fredricksen, a vice president at the eMarketer research firm.

In Spain this summer, Mozilla just launched its new web-based OS, Firefox, on more affordable smartphones. The launch is in partnership with the Spanish carrier, Telefonica, which is also planning to launch Firefox OS in Latin America later this year. Mozilla has managed to attract a growing number of carriers to sell phones that carry its web-based OS as an alternative to more high-end and expensive Android phones and iPhones. The carriers are focusing on developing countries like India where smartphone sales are growing more quickly than in regions like the United States and Western Europe.

Orlando Vea, Chief Wireless Advisor of Smart, the Philippines’s leading wireless services provider and one of the 18 initial global operators welcoming the Open Web device, said, “We’re excited to see Firefox OS in the market because this will help bridge the digital divide. Its HTML5-based technology will make available affordable mobile devices with an open mobile ecosystem. This is aligned with our vision of putting mobile Internet in the hands of every customer.”

Maria Caluag

Sources: The New York Times, Forbes, UNDP, infoDev, The Guardian, Mozilla, Facebook
Photo: Taringa