For most of us, the Internet has become an integral part of our daily lives. We search for information online, socialize and even shop online. However, there are still over 4 billion people in the world who do not have access to the Internet. More than nine-tenths of the world’s population live in places where the infrastructure exists to get them online, but they cannot afford to do so.
A new study from PwC says getting the whole world online would increase global economic output by $6.7 trillion, and lift 500 million people out of poverty over the next five years. The report, titled Connecting the world: Ten mechanisms for global inclusion, was prepared for Facebook and published today. The following blog will look at the main findings from the study and the new technologies being developed to achieve total connectivity.
Connecting Everyone to the Internet
The report identifies three main markets that enable the internet to work effectively. They are:
- The Connectivity Market: which provides affordable and reliable access.
- The Content Market: which creates relevant and compelling reasons for people to go online.
- The Retail Market: which is the Internet industry’s sales and service arm and which helps people to discover the Internet.
The key issues in developing markets are connectivity and affordability. For example, the majority of users in these regions are connecting to the Internet through 2G. While the developed world is moving towards 5G networks, which will generate nearly $250 billion in annual service revenue by 2025. If this network was upgraded to 3G or 4G, the cost of mobile data in these markets would plummet.
Eighty percent of the global population cannot afford 500mb of monthly Internet usage. It would require price cuts of up to 70% to bring these users online. However, the report says improvements in existing technology could significantly reduce costs in developing nations.
Efforts must be made to provide compelling reasons for new users to go online. Education represents a significant portion of consumer spending in developing countries, making it an ideal platform to promote Internet services.
The retail market can also play its part in making people aware of the Internet and how to use it. For example, cyber cafés play an important role in helping people to discover the Internet in countries like Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. It is the means by which 53% of people in those countries first accessed the Internet.
Bundled access and content plans should also be used to reduce the financial burden and make Internet usage more affordable.
The 10 Mechanisms for Global Inclusion
The study provides this list of 10 mechanisms that can bring the whole world online:
- Shifting the spectrum away from 2G: Internet becomes more affordable
- Better offline distribution of content: People able to download locally cached content and consume it offline
- More national and international Internet infrastructure: Internet access prices are cheaper
- Relevant educational content: Provides a compelling reason to go online
- Social services online: Allows citizens to engage with their government more easily and makes them less vulnerable to corruption
- Economic opportunity content: People go online because they can earn more, be more productive, and have wider market access
- High-touch sales models: Provide the community selling, education, and validation that poorer consumers desire before taking on new goods or services
- Brand- or subscriber-subsidized access: Gives the poorest cheap access
- Simpler value propositions: Reduces the financial risk for new users
- Disruptive technologies
Disruptive technologies refers to emerging solutions, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, satellites and lasers. The report says technological innovations are required to reach the remotest and the very poorest. Over the last couple of years, some of the world’s largest companies have been working on ambitious projects to make the Internet ubiquitous around the globe.
One of the earliest initiatives was Project Loon in 2013. The Google research and development team placed high-altitude balloons in the stratosphere to create an aerial wireless network. The idea was to partner with telecommunications companies to share cellular spectrum. This would enable users to connect to the balloon network directly from their mobile devices. Various tests have taken place in New Zealand, Brazil and the United States. The company says they are now improving the technology ahead of the next stages of the project.
Since then, Google has purchased the drone company Titan Aerospace. According to The Wall Street Journal, the company is now planning to use a combination of drones and satellites to deliver worldwide Internet access.
The social media giant has created a dedicated “Connectivity Lab” to develop new ways to make Internet access affordable around the world. They are experimenting with a variety of technologies, including drones, satellites and lasers.
For example, they have built a drone with solar cells and a super-efficient motor that lets it stay airborne for months. Named Aquila, Facebook say the unmanned aircraft could be used to deliver Internet to some of the remotest areas.
The company is also busy rolling out its Free Basics service. This provides users with access to certain services on their mobile phones in markets where Internet access may not be widely available. The websites are not subjected to data charges, and include content on news, health, education and local information.
Last year, Founder and CEO Elon Musk revealed ambitious plans to launch 4,000 cross-linked satellites into orbit. These satellites could send Internet signals across the globe, providing cheap and fast Internet to places that have traditionally low connectivity. The satellites would be mass-produced, at much lower cost per unit of capability than existing satellites.
The Tesla founder has backtracked somewhat since that announcement. He said that SpaceX will be careful not to overextend itself with the project, but hopes to launch a test satellite in 2016.
If these new mechanisms are put in place, the Internet of tomorrow could be a very different place from the Internet of today. The report estimates that there could be five Internet users online in developing markets for every user in developed markets, compared to the current ratio of two to one.
For companies like Google and Facebook, the study says the benefits of providing Internet access to remote and rural areas could be worth up to $200 billion over the next five years.
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