The Mobile Phone Store Ecology in a Mumbai Slum Community: Hybrid Networks for Enterprise

Nimmi Rangaswamy, Sumitra Nair


We report on an ethnographic study of mobile stores’ business practices in a slum community in Mumbai. The basic mobile phone store that sells small “talktime” (the period of billing per call) is graduating to repair, formatting, and maintenance of phone hardware and software. Central to this process of store expansion and skill building is the store entrepreneur. He forges relations with procurement channels and mediating agents, renewing existing ties and expanding business loops by interweaving social and business networks. We refer to these aggregations as “hybrid networks,” and we highlight their maintenance as a critical resource governing enterprise potential. By evoking the ecology of the mobile phone business in an urban slum setting, the paper draws attention to the following concepts: 1) the unique potential of ICTs as an entrepreneurial commodity, 2) the micro- and small enterprise (MSE) as a functional model for local technology immersions, and 3) local social networks as pivotal in expanding technology adoption and aligning with the needs of the low-income consumer. In essence, we locate the small mobile phone store as the site of convergence for the commercial expansion of mobile phone technology.


Mobile phones; Mumbai; Hybrid Networks for Enterprise; slum communities; ICTs

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