The biggest economic benefit from the use of mobile phones was their ability to reduce travel, said Rohan Samarajiva, chief executive of LIRNEasia, a think tank which studies how the poor use information communications technology.
"We found a great deal of emphasis placed on reducing travel through use of mobile phones and improving efficiency of day-to-day work," he told a forum in Bangkok, Thailand held by the Food & Agriculture Organisation where the findings from a multi-country study of 'Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid' were presented.
The study, covering Bangladesh, India, Java in Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand, focused on use of mobile phones for value-generation among poor people.
Phones have overtaken radio at the 'BOP' in all countries except Sri Lanka although some mobiles were used as radios, according to the study.Computer use at the 'BOP' level was low overall as was internet use but mobile phones emerged as almost ubiquitous.
"Probably smart phones are beginning to appear in this population group," said Samarajiva. "So it means more, and better applications can be developed than in feature phones."
Compared with previous surveys among the same population group, the use of mobiles for livelihood purposes in general had grown.
"There's a huge potential with these devices. If so we need more applications," Samarajiva said. "We do need more things that people can do with mobiles.
"Also, phones are designed to be more simple than computers. That's another reason why we have a lot of potential there."
One possibility was looking at more than voice services such as using phones to do payments.
Another was the user interface, of whether subscribers should confine themselves to typing SMS (short message service) or of using emerging voice recognition technology to verbally communicate with services on the phone.
Farmers in the field, for instance, especially those not literate, would not want to do typing.
Mobile phones were already being used by traders and farmers such as for finding market price information and get transportation for crops, apart from giving them the ability to reach a wider range of business contacts.
"We can clearly established mobiles are the pre-eminent communications technology among the poor," said Samarajiva. "Over and over, we hear 'I will not be able to function without the mobile'."
However, use of mobiles for livelihood-related purposes in agriculture sector was still moderate.