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Why is IVR more popular in South Asia, while SMS is more accepted in Africa?

By Wayan Vota on December 17, 2010


Recently at an mHealth meeting, I overheard an interesting comment. One of the speakers mentioned that Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is popular in South Asia but has little uptake in Africa, yet Short Message Service (SMS) is used widely in Africa but not much in Asia.

I tweeted this observation and got a few interesting replies:


Ajay Kumar beleives its from a lack of literacy, but I don’t agree. Literacy rates are very low in both areas. In fact, I’d argue that literacy rates are higher in South Asia, which should mean that text would be more acceptable than voice for conversations.


Emer Beamer says the lack of SMS in South Asia is due to the many different alphabets. This could be a real issue. At the mHealth meeting we laughed at the folly of new Android phones for sale in India that did not support Hindi script.


I think Prabhas Pokharel said it the best. The IVR/SMS difference is not from any one factor, but many, like more languages, more illiteracy (or concern for illiteracy), more oral culture, and cheaper voice or SMS costs.

Now, what do you think? Why is IVR popular in South Asia yet SMS is popular in Africa? Is it language, culture, or just mobile phone services pricing?



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Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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4 Comments to “Why is IVR more popular in South Asia, while SMS is more accepted in Africa?”

  1. Wayan Vota says:

    Katrin Verclas has responded that the cost per minute call / per second billing for voice is the difference. She claims nothing else bears out if we look at the data


  2. Wayan Vota says:

    Esoko says that interviewed farmers prefer mobile market info in text form over voice. Why? So they can trend prices over time.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Common guys, the answer is obvious. Asians have more access to smart phones

  4. Anonymous says:

    Most carrier don’t offers IVR or voice mail services in Africa. On the other hand, just about every carrier offers SMS. This is probably why SMS is more popular in this part of the world. My wife and I moved to Ghana a few months ago, and I can tell you from experience that not a single carrier offers IVR or voice mail services in this country.