The ITU (International Telecommunication Union) is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies – (ICTs), an organization that is“committed to connecting the world”. To do so, the ITU monitors the way people are connected in the world, the problems they encounter, the connection gaps and barriers, all in large part to bridge the digital divide (for an overview of ITU click here). They report annually on ICT “Facts and Figures” and this past month the latest issue, “ICT Facts & Figures – the world in 2015” was released. The entire report is worth viewing, but here’s a digest of some of the key points.
When taking a look at the “Facts and figures” report of 2015, an impressive figure caught our eye : In 15 years, the world has seen an eightfold increase in the number of people who have access to the Internet! (400 million people in 2000 compared with an estimated 3.2 million at the end of 2015)! In the same period of time, the number of connected individuals in developing countries was multiplied by the incredible number of 20! In 2000, only 100 million people from developing countries had Internet access, versus 2 billion today. These are incredible numbers, but we cannot forget that 4 billion people are still completely offline.
Thanks to these “facts and figures” we also notice that the digital divide is not only a question of countries but of location. Indeed urban populations have better access to the Internet, thanks to their advanced network coverage, something that rural areas do not have. It is estimated that by 2015 year end, only 29% of the world’s rural population will have access to a 3G network (just under one billion). Meanwhile the urban population’s 3G coverage will be nearly 90 % (with around 3.2 billion people benefiting from this network).
The importance of 2G
On the other hand, we also notice that the proportion of population covered by a 2G mobile cellular network in the world went from 58% in 2000 to 95 % in 2015. This fact is key as it shows that frugal innovation technologies using, for instance, 2G networks to maintain mobile cellular Internet connectivity have a huge role to play in bridging the digital divide. Almost 6.8 billion people in the world are within range of such a network and therefore can be brought online now without anyone having to deploy huge infrastructure investment programs. (With Be-Bound for example, all that’s needed is an Android-run smartphone). Technologies such as this could help bridge the digital divide in Africa for instance where the mobile broadband penetration is under 20 %. Network agnostic technologies can also help reduce the network saturation users encounter with growing frequency in Europe or in the United States, where, nevertheless the mobile broadband penetration is flirting with the 80 % figure.
Internet is Mobile
1. The mobile Internet penetration grew 12 fold since 2007 reaching 47% in 2015 against 11% for the fixed broadband penetration.
2. Mobile broadband subscription is becoming less expensive than fixed broadband (which is 1.7 higher).
To conclude, this report highlights that there is still a significant digital divide but the divide is being reduced every day and could even be reduced at a faster pace if, rather than focusing on bringing the latest greatest tech to the most rural populations, we set our sights instead on frugal innovation solutions. Android technology such as Be-Bound is available now, without any infrastructure investments, in more than 100 countries. By compressing data, using less broadband, and being network agnostic, Be-Bound’s technology is positioned to play a strong role in bridging this divide. This is a start to taking offline populations to the next step of greater amounts of information, and innovative ICT.