I have been looking for information the global prepaid mobile subscriber market since yesterday morning. Initially, all I wanted to know was the percentage of prepaid subscribers in China, as I wanted to compare operating environments in major mobile markets like India and China, against the fast growth emergent one in sub Saharan Africa. What I found was this map, based on GSMA data as of 2017.
The map is from a rare research study on the prepaid economy, this one conducted by Strategy Analytics, on behalf of a San Francisco based fintech startup. Their focus is on the telcom operating environment rather than that of the customers of prepaid plans, the end users, and thus the theme is about minimizing churn among pay as you go telcom customers who are free of contractual obligations.
Yet, how useful is this approach when we consider the breadth and depth of adoption of the prepaid purchasing of airtime and data?
Prepaid is more than just a telco billing option. As the mobile first, mobile only digital revolution takes over ‘developing’ world’s populous markets, prepaid has come to denote an economic operating environment; distinct, and different from that prevalent in the Global North. Its popularity – the areas covered by the increasing depth of blue on the map above – maps on to what is technically called the Global South, or the developing regions of the world economy.
The first world perspective blurs the lenses when considering prepaid solely as a business model rather than looking at it as a reflection of the vast and undocumented informal and rural economies. The market forces that drive the adoption of prepaid can easily be considered similar across this wide swathe of the world. And, it is this that offers us a new lens by which to contemplate the design of solutions and services, that will resonate with the same target audience that prefers prepaid to postpaid, even when they qualify for credit from the operator of mobile services.
This conversation will continue.