Mobile Applications for Rural India: A Review

Mobile Applications for Rural India: A Review

Debasish Roy (All India Management Association & Aligarh Muslim University, India)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/jgc.2012070101
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Some of the most notable rural mobile applications attempt to improve rural livelihood productivity by making information available to farmers and fishermen on market prices, weather forecasts and other critical news, while mobile banking targets the unbanked and under banked rural populations. Corporations which have spearheaded these rural mobile applications have diverse core competence, like Thomson Reuters’ reliable and critical information, Tata Telecom is the leading telecom service provider and Iffco is a premier fertilizer company, EKO and FINO are startups. Do these companies believe that developing mobile applications for rural communities in India is “Innovations at the Bottom of the Pyramid which will be Core Drivers of the next practices” (Pralhad, 2005)? With their initial limited experience of mobile applications for rural India how did these companies set about understanding the needs of the rural people and developing mobile applications? This paper makes an in depth study of two best in class rural mobile application initiatives, i.e., Reuters Market Light and EKO by studying the situation, the actors, and the process. The learning from case study of these two companies is used to develop a framework for successful implementation of rural mobile applications targeted at rural India and strategizes how these can make more of an impacted if scaled up.
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India is witnessing a phenomenal increase in mobile phone usage particularly in rural India over the last few years. Mobile handsets have become affordable and feature-rich making them amenable to value added applications. There is a consensus among mobile service providers, mobile content developers, banks and other financial institutions, policy makers (i.e., Reserve Bank of India, Ministry of Panchayat and Rural development), and various regulators (i.e., Telecom Regulatory authority of India, Indian Banks association, Insurance regulator of India, Mobile service provider association) that mobile applications is a viable way to reach information and service to rural people.

Fisher Friend (Sharma, 2009), Reuters Market Light (FafChamps & Minten, 2011), Iffco Kishan Sanchar i.e., IKSL (Lokanathan & De Silva, 2010), EKO and FINO (Pickens et al., 2011) are innovative examples which can serve as case studies of how successful mobile applications for rural people can be conceived and implemented.

This paper makes in depth case study of two initiatives namely Reuters Market Light and EKO. The following aspects are studied using a situation-actor-process framework.

  • a.

    How did these companies understand the needs of the rural people? How did they ensure that the rural people adopt their mobile application? What has been these companies’ learning from the rural application business?

  • b.

    How was the various stake holders like the financial service providers (i.e., banks and insurance agencies), various government department which run schemes for the rural people, policymakers (i.e., Reserve Bank of India, Ministry of Rural development), various regulators (i.e., Telecom Regulatory authority of India, Indian Banks association, Insurance regulator of India) coopted in these initiatives ?

  • c.

    What are the strategic tie ups done by these companies for this initiative? Was application development in house or outsourced? Was implementation done by them or in partnership with agencies already having grass root presence?

  • d.

    What was their technology strategy? How did they overcome the technical and infrastructure impediments?

  • e.

    Did the initiatives have the desired impact? Did they meet the objective as envisaged during conceptualization of these initiatives?

The learning from the case studies is tabulated. Actionable points are proposed which would lead to the desired performance.


Survey Of Literature

Mobile Rural Applications

Indian fishermen have adopted mobile phones, whereby by SMS (Short Messaging Service) they are discovering market price of fish at nearby ports, identify customers who are willing to pay the greatest rate for their goods (Jensen, 2007; Abraham, 2007). Similar mobile applications are being developed for agricultural supply chain (Aker, 2008; Javid et al., 2006). Other sectors where mobile applications are being developed are banking the unbanked (Andoh-Baidoo et al., 2007), in microfinance (Sathe & Desai 2006; Parikh et al., 2006), mobile Commerce (Dholakia & Kshetri, 2004), and mobile Governance (Narayan, 2007).

The beneficial effect of better information by mobile messaging to farmers is better timing of sale of crops, better negotiating leverage, better crop planting and harvesting decisions, improved profitability (Parker & Weber, 2011). Easier access to customized information lead to better response to weather and disease information, improved convenience, time and travel savings (Mittal & Tripathi, 2009).

As the number of rural mobile phone users have raced ahead of the number of rural bank account holders (TRAI, 2010) the banks have decided to exploit mobile phone messaging for financial transacting through a secure means like biometric identification or Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) code on mobiles (Dass & Pal, 2011). Study shows that the comparable reach of mobile based financial transaction is the best and this has the lowest transaction cost compared to branch banking or Kiosk or Automatic Teller Machines (ATM).

But as competition intensifies in this sector, these pioneering companies need to stay ahead of competition and maintain differentiation by focusing on activities that are critical to quality of delivery and the value chain (Prakash & Velu, 2010).

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