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BW Businessworld

The Digital Economy

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In all likelihood, you are one of those amphibians living in the twin worlds of the currency and the card. You pay or you swipe, as you like it. But you are going to part with both worlds soon. Welcome mobile money, where a hand-held device, say a cellphone, rules your money life. The Reserve Bank's online museum could be the only place for you to view paper and coin money. The March Of Mobile Money, authored by Sam Pitroda, chairman of National Knowledge Commission, and C-SAM CEO Mehul Desai, examines the past, present and future of mobile money, detailing the complexity of money transactions through mobiles. It highlights the potential that mobile money holds to make people's lives easier in countries like India.

India is already scripting a new chapter in the way money is kept, stored and used. With more than 600 million mobile subscribers, the stage is set for mobile commerce here. India is adding an average 15 million mobile subscribers each month. Pitroda, who is credited with initiating a technological revolution in India's telecom sector, uses all his experience to highlight the challenges mobile money needs to overcome. In the process, the authors track the evolution of telecom, credit-card companies and banks, and link them to other stakeholders. "If the ability to make payments using mobile phones is the engine, various lifestyle management services are the drivers," say the authors. The book discusses similar trends in countries such as Japan and Korea, and notes a robust infrastructure is critical for the success of mobile money. Sadly, India has the world's lowest broadband speeds. Issues such as lack of online coordination among banks, erratic power supply and cyber attacks also do not augur well for mobile money in the country. Is the government listening?

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 27-12-2010)