The CMIE Consumer Pyramids data shows that in all their income categories, more than 50% of households have a mobile phone. It is only in their bottom category `Lower Middle Income - II' that only 37.5% of households have mobile phones. From `Higher Middle Income - III' upwards, the incidence is above 80%. If you had asked anyone in 1999 or 1989 whether this could be done by 2009, the answer would have been in the negative.
With broadband Internet, in contrast, India has not got such breakthroughs.
The September 2009 issue of Finance & Development has a story on the impact of mobile phones for development. In India, there is a lot of merit in using new technologies and players to break with the comfortable stagnation that's enveloped finance.
The Economist has a beautiful section on mobile phones and development: on Chinese progress on network hardware, broadband, on the impact on development, a retrospective, looking forward, and an enthralling piece on the cost reductions by firms in developing countries. Now all we need is for Indian finance to go the way of Indian telecom (and airlines).
Anand Giridharadas, writing in New York Times, describes new developments in distance education. India is the place in the world which would be the biggest beneficiary from distance education, given the combination of lots of young people and a dismal education system. This does require broadband to go the way mobile phones have. I often joke that the task of an economics undergraduate education in India should be to get a person to the point where he or she can read my blog :-) (and cynics respond saying that most of the teachers of economics in India can't parse my blog).
Anne Eisenberg has an article in New York Times about researchers at UCLA trying to use cell phones to do medical diagnosis. Given the ubiquity of cell phones in India, these could be useful lines of attack for us.