During the past couple of years, the focus of the mobile device and connectivity sectors has moved steadily toward developing economies. The mature economies, which are mostly considered to be North America and Western Europe, are near saturation and the big advances that would lead folks to ditch one device for another occur far less often.
The equation is far different in the world of developing economies. There, you find a lot more people with a lot less money to spend and a lot less stable infrastructure. Each of these points alone would change the types of devices that are made, how they are distributed and the system for getting them online. Taken together, the differences are transformational.
To that end, the usual players are hard at work. The Daily Mail reports that Facebook is negotiating with London-based Avanti to use satellites to provide free Internet service to large parts of Africa. Avanti owns two satellites that see Africa and plans to launch three more.
The story says that Vodafone and other mobile carriers declined to work with Facebook Chairman, CEO and co-Founder Mark Zuckerberg on the project. In comments quoted in the story, Zuckerberg said that while Facebook is a social tool in mature economies, it can be a valuable conduit to health care and important elements in other as-yet unconnected areas.
Pablo Valerio discusses the same basic issue, connecting people in developing countries, at Network Computing. He quotes figures from The GSMA: The number of people connected in these regions is expected to double to 3 billion by 2020. He outlines efforts made by Facebook prior to the project outline in The Daily Mail.
Valerio also looks at the huge challenges, the three biggest of which are that there is a dearth of Wi-Fi access points, the wired infrastructure is poor and even $100 smartphones cost too much. But there is some progress: Firefox offers a $25 phone, the Spreadtrum, and an expected cheap Tizen-based phone from Samsung should be available soon. Google’s Android One program also offers several similarly inexpensive phones.
The Telegraph explains just how extreme the growth of people using the Internet will be. The story says that India and Indonesia, for example, will experience double digit growth annually until 2018. Although the article discusses how Google and Facebook are planning to deal with the explosion, the description of Facebook’s plans seems to focus on a different project than the one it is contemplating with Avanti. Google’s approach apparently involves airships and drones.
As the focus moves to providing connectivity in countries with developing economies, several points become clear: The devices manufactured and sold will be far cheaper than the lion’s share of those sold to date, connectivity mostly will be wireless, innovative approaches will be employed to reach these people, and the uses of the Internet will shift from fun and games to matters of life and death.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.