How the poor use their mobile data: A field experiment in India

Can less flexible data plans make users better off?

The challenge

Through their increased prevalence, smartphones have become a key social development tool for slum-dwellers. Particularly, they are considered as a ‘force multiplier’ to effectively deliver services and information to isolated markets.
Although smartphones carry great potential, accessibility alone may not be enough to make a significant impact on reducing poverty. Success heavily depends how users engage with their mobile devices and the accessibility of practical information.

The intervention

This project addresses the question of how the design of data plans – in particular, smaller data-replenishment cycles – can create value for both user and provider.
To study this issue, the researchers conduct a randomized controlled trial in an urban slum community in India. They provide slum-dwellers with restrictive and flexible data plans, and measure ICT-usage on smartphones.

The impact

This research aims to shed light on the dynamics of smartphone usage of the poor in order to show how restrictions in data plans can make users engage with better content and make them more accessible to information providers. It may help us identify ways to increase the impact of development-related, smartphone-based interventions; based on the assumption that, in resource constrained environments, design of mobile data plans can mitigate undesired consequences of user behaviour.


Kamalini Ramdas, Professor of Management Science and Operations, London Business School

Alp Sungu is a PhD student in Management Science and Operations, graduating class 2022 at London Business School. In his research, Alp is interested in understanding operational restrictions in resource-limited environments, with the aim to improve the delivery of services targeting the poor. Alp’s research examines mobile data usage of the poor and nutrition challenges in urban slums.

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