Where In The World Are The 1.2M Raspberry Pi Microcomputers? Mostly In The West – But Pi Founders Want More Spread This Year


One to 1.2 million Raspberry Pi microcomputers have shipped since the device’s launch just over a year ago but where in the world are they located? While it’s impossible to say exactly where* each Pi has ended up, the vast majority of the devices sold to-date have shipped to developed nations — including the U.S. and the U.K. But the potential of the Pi as a low cost learning-focused computing platform for developing countries remains very exciting.

Last week the U.K.-based Pi Foundation blogged about a volunteer group that had taken a suitcase-worth of Pis to a school in rural Cameroon where they are being used to power a computer class. At $35 apiece, and even $25 for the Model A Pi, the Pi does a lot to break down the affordability barrier to computing — although it still requires additional peripherals (screen, keyboard, mouse) to turn it into a fully fledged computer terminal.

Asked about the global sales distribution of the Pi, the Foundation provided TechCrunch with some “very rough”, internal estimates of Pi sales to developing/emerging nations — and the figures (listed below) suggest that the first million+ Pi sales have overwhelmingly been powered by wealthier nations.

The most Pi-populous country on the developing/emerging nations list (India) can lay claim to roughly 0.5%-0.6% of total global Pi sales to-date, according to this data. While, collectively, these listed nations make up between only 1.4% and 1.7% of total global Pi shipments. So more than 98% of the Pi pie has been sold to the world’s wealthiest countries thus far.

India 6000
Indonesia 1200
Lao P.Dem.R. 600
Malaysia 3400
Philippines 500
Pakistan 100
Sri Lanka 50
Thailand 2000
Vietnam 500
Egypt 150
South Africa 2000
Tunisia 200
Zimbabwe 50
Bolivia 100
Chile 400
Colombia 20
Peru 50

There are also, of course, scores of (apparently) Pi-less developing nations that do not make this list at all. One of which – the Kingdom of Bhutan — does actually have a princely one Pi sale to its name at present, according to the Foundation. “It’s a server for Khan Academy Lite in a school, whose 64GB SD card costs more than twice what the Pi cost,” the Foundation’s Liz Upton tells TechCrunch. “We’re working on getting more out there!”

It’s likely that some of the Pis shipped to developed countries have found their way to less wealthy nations – via charities and other ‘suitcase schemes’ such as the Cameroon school project mentioned above which took out 30 Pis. Or via individual buyers seeking to avoid high import tariffs that can push up the price of bulk commercial imports (such as in Brazil).

But even factoring in some extra spread, there’s no doubt the Pi is predominantly disrupting the living rooms and schools of the developed world. Which, it should be noted, was the original ambition of the Pi founders — specifically they wanted to get more U.K. kids coding, following a national slump in interest in computer science education.

But the Pi’s unexpected popularity has generated additional momentum for the project — and even grander geographical ambitions.

“We’re weighted very strongly towards the developed world,” admits Pi founder Eben Upton, when he sends the data, but he says that this spread — or rather concentration — is something the Foundation is keen to work on. “A major challenge for us this year is to find ways of making Pi more available, and more appealing, in these [developing/emerging] markets,” he says.

The Pi hardware seems to offer huge potential to the developing world — being cheaper than most mobile phones, let alone most smartphones — the other device touted as the likely first computing experience for connecting the “next billions” to the Internet. The Pi is also cheaper than another Linux-based low cost learning-focused computing project: the one laptop per child’s XO laptop. And it has an advantage over general Linux PCs or Android tablets in being conceived and supported as first and foremost a learning environment, making it well-suited to push into schools.

As for low cost PCs in general, the netbook category — still more expensive than Pi — is facing extinction by 2015, according to analyst IHS iSuppli, which has put out a forecast today predicting zero netbook shipments within two years, and just 3.97 million units globally this year.

As the traditional desktop PC declines, it’s great to see the rise of a new computing device that, unlike the slick consumer tablets du  jour, is intended to encourage hacking, tinkering and learning about hardware and software, rather than passive consumption of prepackaged apps — in the best tradition of the home computer. And a device which also, thanks to its tiny price-tag, has such huge disruptive potential.

So here’s hoping a lot more of the next million+ Pis end up very far from home indeed.

*At the time of writing, the Rastrack map, a project to get Pi-owners to report the location of their Pi and plot the owner locations on a map, was not accessible. The map is used in the feature image at the top of this post, showing a snapshot of self-reported Pi distribution in May last year

Global Mobile Subscriptions To Rise To 8.9BN By 2017 — With 80% Of Them In The Developing World, Says Strategy Analytics


A huge theme of this year’s Mobile World Congress tradeshow, which took place last week, was connecting the “next billions” to the mobile Internet. Looking at the chart above — part of a new report out today by Strategy Analytics — it’s not hard to see why. It’s both a huge opportunity for carriers, mobile makers and app developers, and inevitably an affordability and margins challenge. Analyst Strategy Analytics is forecasting that the worldwide base of mobile subscriptions will rise to 8.9 billion over the next five years — and a massive four out of five of these (80 per cent) will be in developing countries. China and India will account for the bulk of emerging market subscriptions, according to the analyst, but it also expects “rapid growth” in the Middle East and Africa.

As you’d expect, developing countries will also see much higher growth in mobile subscriptions than developed countries. Writing in the report, Worldwide Cellular User Forecasts, 2012-2017, the analyst predicts that  subscriptions in developing countries will grow at a compound annual rate of 7.5 per cent — a rate it describes as “substantially faster” than the 2.8 per cent growth that will be seen in developed countries. The analyst name checks Nigeria as a country with a mobile services revenue growth rate that is forecast to be twice the worldwide average — the latter is predicted to be just two per cent through to 2017, according to Strategy Analytics’ figures.

While the majority of devices in developing markets are likely to be basic mobile phones, focused on talk and text, rather than fully featured smartphones, the analyst points to the opportunity created by a growing middle class population in Africa, noting that the African Development Bank estimates more than a third of Africa’s population in 2010 — some 350 million people — could be counted as middle class, up from 220 million in 2000. ”Of course there is still a lot of demand for basic products and services, but the growing middle class is starting to demand more extensive data services on a widening range of smartphones, high end feature phones, and tablets,” said Tom Elliott, Director of Emerging Markets Consulting, in a statement.

Mobile maker Nokia has had some success with a low end device strategy that has been seeking to blur the line between mobiles and smartphones, such as its Asha line of Series 40 handsets. At MWC, Nokia also announced an $85 feature phone with some smart extras, including the ability to share photos to social networks. Nokia has also focused on lowering the total cost of ownership of these quasi-smart devices, with long battery life and a cloud web browser which compresses data before delivering it to lower browsing costs, to help boost affordability.

Nokia is not the only mobile company focusing on the low end either. Mozilla’s open web HTML5 Firefox OS, which gained considerable carrier backing at MWC, is also targeting markets with large numbers of people who may not have been able to afford smartphones as yet. The Samsung-backed Tizen OS is another potential low end contender. Other open source players that are hoping to snatch share at the low end include Jolla with its Sailfish OS, and Canonical’s Ubuntu. At MWC carrier Bharti Airtel, which operates in India and Africa, called for $30 smartphones to help push down the affordability barrier.

Overall, mobile subscriptions are growing faster than the global population, according to Strategy Analytics. By the beginning of next year it predicts there will be more mobile connections than people in the world.

How The Future of Mobile Lies in the Developing World


Editor’s note: This guest post is written by Erica Kochi, the co-lead of Tech Innovation at UNICEF. Her team started UNICEF’s open source RapidSMS platform which has been adopted in developing countries worldwide. She co-teaches a class ”Design for Unicef” in NYU’s ITP Program, and has lectured at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia University on leveraging technology and design to improve international development. All these views are her own.

In less than three decades, the mobile phone has gone from being a status symbol to being a ubiquitous technology that facilitates almost every interaction in our daily lives. One month after the world’s population topped 7 billion in October 2011, the GSM Association announced that mobile SIM cards had reached 6 billion. A 2009 study in India illustrated that every 10 percent increase in mobile penetration leads to a 1.2 percent increase in GDP.

Yet patterns of mobile phone use in developing countries are vastly different from what you see on the streets of New York, San Francisco, and Berlin. This is a market underserved by technologists and startups. This is where the majority of future growth lies, and Silicon Valley has yet to realize the huge economic opportunities for network operators, handset developers, and mobile startups. Where are these opportunities?

Developing Countries are Powering the Growth

China and India account for the majority of new mobile connections, and in developing countries mobile saturation hasn’t yet hit and is still experiencing double-digit growth.

This rapid growth most recently driven from the developing world is surprising when you consider that for the average mobile user, procuring the device costs a few months’ salary. Sustaining this connection generates tremendous value and meets many user needs as they continue to invest often over 10 percent of their monthly income in staying connected.

The explosive growth of mobile in developing countries over the past five years is what prompted us at UNICEF to leverage mobile to strengthen our programmes in 190 countries and territories. Many of UNICEF’s programmes now use mobiles for a variety of purposes. One program ensures that infants are tested for HIV and put on treatment if necessary. Another gathers direct feedback from communities on everything from water sanitation to access to essential medication.

Creativity Despite No Data

For those in Silicon Valley, it’s hard to imagine that 70 percent of all handset shipments are feature phones. Most of these phones go to developing countries. The vast majority of the world, especially in low income and rural areas, is still living the mobile revolution through the constraints of voice, SMS and asynchronous connection.

These connectivity constraints fuel tremendous creativity. For many communities, simple voice and text connections have brought about revolutions in access to financial, health, agricultural and education services and opportunities for employment.  For example, many farmers in rural areas in Africa and Asia use SMS services to to find out the daily prices of prices of agricultural commodities. This information allows them to improve their bargaining position when taking their goods to market, and also allows them to switch between end markets.

Another successful example in this space is UNICEF’s RapidSMS initiative: a scalable SMS-based open-source framework for dynamic data collection, logistics coordination and communication. UNICEF currently supports governments across six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and over 200,000 RapidSMS users in some of the most underserved and rural communities. Frontline health workers who each serve hundreds of women and children make up many of these users. Success in this space is quantified by time, money and lives saved. It is widely used by governments and the international development community, and has also taken off in business communities. For example, in Ghana, a local entrepreneur uses RapidSMS to monitor the sales of cook stoves around the country.

Airtime is Cash

In many countries where the majority of people are unbanked, airtime has become another form of currency. Imagine you need to get a small amount of money to your sister who lives in a village that’s ten hours drive away. The easiest way for you to do that is to buy some airtime, but instead of topping up your own prepaid mobile service you top up hers. For a small fee, she can now go and cash out this airtime with an agent that sells airtime.

M-PESA, a project out of Kenya that was initially set up to distribute micro-loans to and collect payments from the poorest rural communities of Kenya, has now become a large-scale multi-country mobile cash transfer system run by Safaricom in East Africa and Roshan in Afghanistan.

For many governments mobile money is a conundrum. They like that their citizens can access financial services that could significantly improve their lives. On the flip side, it can mean that mobile network operators and other mobile money service providers now operate and benefit from the revenue that normally would go to the central bank?

Challenges remain. The price points of using these services are still out of reach for the poorest communities. There are often too few agents to cash out airtime. People often don’t understand or trust non-traditional forms of financial services.

Yet this creates a huge business opportunity. Even with all the network operators in this space, there are possibilities for a multitude of services that leverage mobile payments. To be able to successfully develop in this space, we need to better examine how people interact with money across the world and build applications that are flexible enough to be customized and be relevant to different cultural patterns.

In San Francisco you might pay your cab driver through his Square reader, but in Nairobi you’ll send him some airtime.

A Phone for the Developing World

iPhones don’t stand a chance due to their inflexibility and high price points. As it stands, the operating system for the developing world smartphone will be Android. However, even the flagship Samsung Galaxy Nexus isn’t the ideal phone. The ideal smartphone will be:

1. Cheap. Last year, Huawei in partnership with Safaricom unveiled an $80 Android phone in Kenya where 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. At this year’s Mobile World Congress the CEO’s of Bharti Airtel, Telefonica Latin America and VimpelCom came out together and stated that $50 is the magic price point for smartphones to become more widely affordable in emerging economies.

2. Rugged and simple. The Nokia 1100 series is the most popular phone in the world. It is dust proof, water resistant, rugged, has a simple menu system, few separate parts and has a flashlight. Every town across the developing world has a local repair shop with spare parts for simple Nokias. When I travel to the developing world, I rely on my trusty Nokia 1100, not my iPhone. Smartphones are delicate creatures that don’t stand up to the daily wear and tear of people’s lives.

3. Battery life of a week. Recharging your phone every night is not an option if you live in a rural village without electricity. At one of UNICEF’s projects in rural Senegal, I encountered a village entrepreneur who started a business where he would collect everyone’s cell phones and for a small fee, bike to an electrified village a few hours away, then bike back with phones at full charge.

People in these countries spend a lot of money to keep their phones charged. Developing a phone whose battery lasts for a week would unlock smartphones to a large market segment.

Apps Optimized for Data Use

Data is as expensive in developing as in developed countries. Data is unlikely to fall in price as quickly as smartphones, so even when handsets get cheap enough for an average user in a developing country, they still won’t be able to afford run many of the apps that make up the smartphone experience. There will be demand for apps – be it banking, weather, chat, social, and market information – but for them to take off it’s crucial that they use as little bandwidth as possible. One feature to emulate is Android’s Data Usage screen which allows you to set limits for data usage and makes it clear how much data you’ve used.

Call to Arms

The continued double digit growth of mobile in developing countries represents a tremendous business opportunity. While companies in Silicon Valley fight over trying to develop the top app in a certain category, huge untapped potential still remains in the developing world. Working in this space will require businesses to be able to think through the design of their applications from a different viewpoint. Their end users will have different motivations, experiences, needs and constraints. While handset manufacturers will need to build a phone whose battery lasts, app developers will need to build appropriate apps that use little bandwidth.

Photos under creative commons sharealike license by Merrick Schaefer, UNICEF; Jan Chipchase, frog; and Terra Weikel, UNICEF.