Going a step backwards: How to reach the next billion?

With  more research methods converging to online from offline, it might sound self-speaking to follow the trend and abandon traditional modes of data collection.

With mobile phone penetration rates almost globally reaching levels beyond 100% it becomes clear that this fact can be used as a vital tool for data collection worldwide. Utilizing small portable devices like netbooks or PDAs is not a recent phenomenon but has been around for almost two decades. Data collection via these handheld or portable devices has been used for opinion polling, education, and market monitoring. But how can we further reach the next billion located in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America?


Source: Source GSMA Africa Mobile Observatory 2011

Looking at the Asia-Pacific Area, Europe, and Northern America it becomes evident that SMS data collection will have a rather niche segment due to the fact that mobile internet usage has reached significant penetration levels. In the EU 48% (Source: EU Eurobarometer 2014) of the households have mobile internet available. In the US back in 2013 already 63% (Source: Pew Mobile Technology Fact Sheet 2013) of the population used the mobile phone to go online.

At the same time, only 26.5% (Source: ITU Report 2014) of the African population can be considered as an internet user. It is pretty self-speaking that when trying to reach this part of the population, survey responses will include a significant bias. Subsequently, the large usage of Face-to-Face interviews in Sub-Saharan Africa can be understood.

Smartphone versus feature phone?

Currently, there are two camps in Africa when looking at the type of phone. On one hand, there are the so-called feature phones, and on the other hand, there are actual smartphones.

Africa is mobile…but the continent is torn between the smartphone army and the dumbphone brigade. Both camps have compelling arguments in their arsenal.

Alex Dadson – Qualcomm during 2014 Mobile Web West Africa.

When looking at feature phones, these are almost never thrown away but rather reused and passed on from one owner to the next one. The reasons for the usage of feature phones in Africa is quite self-speaking:

  • Elderly people for which smartphones are too complicated
  • Users which require voice and SMS only
  • Anyone who wants a work or spare phone that is sturdy
  • Users with little access to power (remote areas)

At the same time, there are several arguments which state that feature phones will very unlikely be the future for Africa. An important aspect of the future will be the lifetime of a single smartphone but also the price level. It is expected that in the future due to the economy of scales, price parity will be reached thus consumers in Africa will no longer use price as an argument in favor of feature phones.

2-way SMS Data Collection

From a sampling point of view, we at Sample Solutions are excited to see which direction the mobile phone market will move in. In the meantime, we are proud to offer 2-way SMS data collection in more than 42 countries for our clients. We are continuously expanding our country coverage while scaling-up our capacity.

Just like in a ping-pong game, questions and answers are forwarded to our system and the target respondent’s. As an example:


Upon completion of the survey, the respondent can then be rewarded with an airtime credit top-up or by entering a prize draw. This also allows the development of an SMS survey platform for which socio-demographics parameters can also be implemented.

It is also important to  carefully choose how the target sample is selected. We at Sample Solutions do not buy any lists from providers or brokers. The target population is selected by means of true RDD sampling. Having almost a decade of experience when it comes to cell phone RDD sampling and filtering, we are capable of providing a highly representative sample. The cell phone RDD sample is filtered further prior to sending. By doing so we can check whether the respondents phone has:

  1. An activated SIM card
  2. Switched-on his cell phone
  3. Is Located within the target country (not roaming)

From our first internal pilot in several African countries, we, for example, noted that between 5-7% of the responses originated from respondents that were not contacted by us. Also from a response rate point of view, we monitored values between 2% and 3% without even making use of a reminder system. These and other findings from our research were presented during at the annual AAPOR conference in Florida.

If you have any queries or would like to get in touch with us, do not hesitate to contact us.

This article was posted in the categories Sampling and SMS and contains the following keywords: data collectionSMS data collection, mobile, Sample Solutions, RDD sampling , RDD sample, SMS survey platform

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