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Ghana Mobile Communication
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Mobile Communications in Ghana
The Mobile Phone Environment
As access to the internet and mobile phones expands (particularly to mobile phones), development organizations are straining to keep abreast of how these ICTs are affecting both flows of information and best-practice implementation of development projects. Practitioners already are leveraging these technologies around the world, using mobile phones for such value-added tasks as providing farmers with up-to-the-minute crop price information, linking rural health workers to medical doctors and providing financial services to the previously unbanked.  But these and other programs often are implemented without a solid understanding of the user environment. Our analysis from the AudienceScapes Ghana 2009 survey provides a glimpse of that environment in Ghana.
As has been observed across the developing world, mobile phone access in Ghana is quickly outpacing that of landline phones and changing the nature of communication. Three quarters of the survey respondents said they had used a mobile phone for some purpose in the last week alone, and 88 percent had used a phone within the last year (Chart 1). However, these figures do not fully capture the state of mobile phone access in the country, nor do they offer insight into how phones are being used.
A close look at the data reveals notable differences in use patterns by demographic group: for example, men were more likely than women to say that they used a phone in the last week, young adults (15-29) were more likely to say so than older respondents, and urban dwellers were more likely than rural residents (Chart 2). The largest differences arose between levels of education—an effective proxy in the survey data for general socio-economic status.
Despite the broad reach of mobile phones in Ghana, the survey indicated that voice calls remain the predominant function used by most people (Table 1).
Even the most popular non-voice functions—SMS between users or from operators and third-party information services—are not habitual activities for nearly two-thirds of mobile users.
That said, mobile phone use patterns are likely to change rapidly over the next several years as new applications and phone models become available. For example, financial transactions did not register so much as a blip among respondents when the survey was conducted in July and August 2009. But “mobile money” services have been rolled out recently in Ghana and may well make such transactions routine, as they have in Kenya and elsewhere. 
The use of SMS services may be running up against a literacy/language wall, given survey data suggesting that English capabilities in particular are a major factor in SMS use rates (Table 2). Indeed, regular use of SMS services is more than three times higher for those who said they read English easily than for those who said they do not read English at all.
This gap highlights a key challenge in the introduction of new communication technologies: where a certain level of literacy or education is required to fully use the technology, large segments of the population may be left behind. This also points to the critical nature of projects that extend mobile usage to illiterate people, such as Nokia’s research into designing phones compatible with illiteracy.
Ownership is not a prerequisite for using a mobile phone, as non-owners can alternatively own one or more SIM cards for use in others’ handsets, borrow a phone from others, or pay for use at a mobile phone kiosk. Chart 3 shows the scale of ownership compared to sharing and/or borrowing, and highlights the large number of people who are working around non-ownership.
However, as Table 3 indicates, use patterns differ markedly between owners and non-owners, with the latter group lagging far behind in nearly all function categories.
Indeed, borrowing may be a challenging task in some instances, as only 20 percent of phone owners said they lend their phones to other people on a regular basis (defined as “at least once a month”). Almost half of those (43 percent) said they lend their phone to only 1 or 2 people. That said, phone-sharing is widespread enough that nearly 70 percent of non-owners said they can typically borrow a phone from family members when necessary, while 40 percent said they can borrow from friends, and 29 percent said they can borrow from local businesses.
Among those who own mobile phones, most said they had not been owners for very long, indicating how new the technology is to most Ghanaian adults (Chart 4).
Those who were at the cutting edge of mobile phone technology—whom we refer to as “early adopters,” defined as people who said they first purchased a mobile phone more than 5 years ago (before July/August 2004)—are profiled in greater detail here.
When asked which mobile service provider they used, 73 percent of users mentioned MTN, followed by 26 percent for Tigo, 18 percent for Vodaphone and less than 10 percent for both Zain and Kasapa. The total of more than 100 percent reflects many phone owners’ practice of carrying SIM cards from multiple operators to take advantage of price and/or coverage variations among them.
By and large, the demographic breakout of ownership patterns was very similar to that of use: female respondents were less likely than males to own phones; rural residents less likely than urban residents; and farmers less likely than those not dependent on farming.
However, one notable result was that young adult (15-29) respondents were not significantly more likely to own phones than many older counterparts, even though young adults said they use mobiles more heavily (Chart 5). This suggests that age is not a limiting factor to active participation in the mobile trend, as even the 65-69 age bracket shows a majority of respondents are owners and fairly frequent users.
Differences in ownership rates among the ten administrative regions of Ghana are more stark than the differences in mobile phone use, suggesting that in the Eastern, Brong Ahafo, Central, and Northern regions, sharing/borrowing is more widespread (Chart 6). Unfortunately, the survey data did not provide much insight on why such differences exist. Specifically, the data did not suggest clear links between regional ownership rates and regional trends in self-reported income or respondents’ assessments of mobile phone signal reliability where they lived.
The 12 percent of survey respondents who said they did not use mobile phones attributed this primarily to access and price issues: among the most commonly cited barriers to using a phone were not owning a phone (77 percent of non-users), not having access to a phone (31 percent), the high cost of handsets (26 percent), and the high cost of calling credits (13 percent).
Generally, the survey suggested that many people perceive mobile phones to be costly. Respondents also tended to say that mobile phones are generally easy to use, but can be challenging to maintain and to use in any location (Charts 7-10).
Thus, for mobile phones to live up to their full potential as a new way to communicate, share information and promote development, operators and development groups need to bolster efforts to address to cost, coverage, and maintenance constraints for large segments of the population.
 Specific examples of mobile phone applications can be found in “Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in NGO Mobile Use,” United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Group Foundation, http://www.unfoundation.org/press-center/publications/wireless-technology-for-social-change.html
 See for example, “Mobile Money in Ghana Thanks to MTN,” IT News Africa, 24 July 2009. http://www.itnewsafrica.com/