CAMBRIDGE • One of the striking changes any rich-world traveller to low-income countries cannot fail to have missed during the past decade or so is the rapid spread of mobile phone use, followed by expanding mobile Internet access. Mobile communications are playing the same role in social and economic development in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that the spread of fixed-line communications did in countries like France and Britain in the 1970s. Family and social connections, as well as business and educational opportunities, are being transformed.
A key contributor to this technological transformation was a mandatory EU technical standard enforced in 1987. The regulation created a continent-wide market for hardware and services, one large enough that the standard - called GSM, after the Groupe Special Mobile committee that had codified it - was adopted globally.