With penetration rates nearing or over 100 percent in most developed countries, it's surprising that there are still millions of women globally without mobile phones. But this gender gap is real and according to the GSMA it could represent a $13 billion opportunity for the wireless industry if some of the existing obstacles can be overcome.
And what exactly are those obstacles? At a GSMA-hosted Women in Mobile event last week in New York City, I sat down with the trade group's mWomen Programme Director Trina DasGupta to talk about the roadblocks women in emerging countries face when it comes to mobile technology and what the industry can do to help overcome these issues.
If you were in Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress trade show in February you might remember that the GSMA unveiled a big research report on women and mobile. Some key findings were that there are 300 million fewer female subscribers than male subscribers in low-to-middle-income countries, and women in these countries are 21 percent less likely than men to own a mobile phone.
DasGupta says that the reasons women in emerging countries don't own cell phones are varied. For many, the cost of the device and the service is too high. For others, it's a cultural barrier because cell phones represent freedom, something women are not accustomed to having. Still others fear being able to master cell phone technology.
The GSMA's mWomen program is hoping to close this mobile phone gender gap by 50 percent in three years and enable 150 million women to have mobile phones. The program intends to reveal additional data at the 2012 Mobile World Congress in February, including information such as what women in emerging markets want in terms of devices and products. Perhaps more importantly, the group also plans to have several business cases for companies that want to reach this market, including specifics on how to market to this group.
So what does this mean for U.S. companies? DasGupta thinks that this might be a particularly lucrative market for mobile developers who can come up with interesting applications that will help women see the value in mobile phones. "A lot of the existing content is created for men and women don't use it," DasGupta said. "We are challenging application developers to come up with emerging market apps. What do these apps look like?"
DasGupta was one of several participants at last week's GSMA Women in Mobile event. The networking event also included presentations by some of the top women executives and entrepreneurs in the wireless field, including Caroline Lewko of Wireless Industry Partnership, Lisa Mitnick of Accenture and Susie Kim Riley, formerly of Camiant and now with Matrix Partners and Northbridge Venture Partners. Check out these photos from the event. --Sue