Mobile technology can be useful all across the world, whether it's building an application for Apple's new 3G iPhone in the UK or working out how to use SMS in Botswana to deliver health information to a rural community.

Fields as diverse as technology to geography and poverty to telecommunications come into play when working with mobile technology.

Yet, at the same time, it's this same diversity that presents us with many of our greatest challenges. In many ways, the mobile world, particularly in the ICT for Development (ICT4D) field, is fragmented and often misunderstood.

While developed markets get excited by the iPhone, Nokia N95, BlackBerry, 3G, WiMax and Android, in developing countries, most excitement centres around the proliferation of mobile phones into poorer rural, communication-starved areas and their potential to help close the digital divide.

Handset giants such as Nokia and Motorola believe that mobile devices will "close the digital divide in a way the PC never could". Industry bodies such as the GSM Association run their own 'Bridging the Digital Divide' initiative, and international development agencies such as USAID pump hundreds of millions of dollars into economic, health and educational initiatives based around mobile technology.

With so many big names involved, what could possibly go wrong?

To answer this, I think we need to go back to basics and ask what we really mean when we talk about mobiles helping close the digital divide. Clearly, mobile phones are relatively cheap (when compared to personal or laptop computers, anyway). They are small and portable, have good battery life, provide instant voice communications, have SMS functionality at the very least, and they have the potential to provide access to the internet.

What's more, hundreds of millions of some of the poorest members of society either own one or have access to one. No other two-way communications technology comes close. (Radio, which is a hugely relevant and influential channel, is obviously only one-way).

I've been lucky over the past few years to have spoken at numerous conferences, workshops and company offices about the uses of mobile technology in international conservation and development, and it's something I truly enjoy doing. But the more I do, the more I see a widening knowledge, or awareness, gap.

In the West, when we talk of mobiles helping close the digital divide, many people make a huge assumption about the technologies available to users in developing countries. We look at the mobile through rose-tinted glasses from the top of our ivory towers, through a Western prism or the lens of a 3G iPhone. Call it what you like.

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