Cell phones transform India's poor, bring free markets

Cell phones transform India's poor, bring free markets

Before he got a mobile phone seven years ago, Vijay Navle, a small Mumbai fish trader, spent much of his time and scant income travelling on buses and trains, according to the Financial Times.

Every day, he would make the five-hour round trip to visit fishermen living on the Arabian Sea on the north of the city to see if they had caught any of the prawns and large fish that he sells to exporters at south Mumbai’s Sassoon Dock.

Today, like a growing number of Indians, rich and poor, Mr Navle and the fishermen have mobile phones. Fishermen call him when they catch something and he arranges the pick-up and delivery to customers by phone. “I can immediately inform my customers that there’s a big catch coming in fresh and we get a better price for it,” says Mr Navle.

While mobiles can change lives for the better, advances in technology can also be a double-edged sword, as fish trader Mr Navle is discovering.

The mobile initially gave him an edge. But recently, his income has declined as customers have begun calling around to get a better price. “Earlier, they would deal only with me. I would have dedicated customers. Now they are calling other traders as well,” he says.

For hundreds of millions of people across India such as Mr Navle, the rise of mobile telephony has led to changes in their lives as profound as the advent of the fixed-line home telephone was for rich consumers in the west.


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