There is a major push by some of the largest Internet Companies to extend Internet access to a larger portion of the world’s population. As more and more people become connected to the Internet, what does that mean for its future?
It Seems Like Everyone Is Connected To The Internet
If you are reading this blog from a developed country, you are likely very familiar with the Internet. Many of us have used the Internet in one form or another since the 1990s. Until somewhat recently, many Internet users in the developed world used either a desktop or laptop PC to access the Internet. However, there are still billions of people on earth who have either never used the Internet or do not use the Internet on a regular basis – as of this year, 61% of the world’s population does not use the Internet.
Inexpensive mobile phones with Internet connectivity are connecting the developing world at a rapid pace. Groups dedicated to providing Internet access to residents of developing countries, such as The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) and Internet.org, are supported and backed by top Internet companies, such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook.
Global Internet Trends
If your business or organization caters to a local or regional base of customers or users, you may believe that Internet connectivity in the developing world is of little personal consequence to you or your business or organization. However, global Internet trends will affect all Internet users, including those in developed countries.
Production And Manufacturing
An individual who is just now connecting to the Internet with a mobile device may become a future supplier, reseller or customer of your business. This individual may own or manage the factory that manufacturers your products. He or she may become a distributor or reseller of your products. This individual may one day emigrate from their developing country and become a local customer or even an employee of your business. Finally, if you are a non-profit organization with any sort of outreach program to the developing world, it is vital that you learn how the people you are trying to reach and serve are connecting to the Internet, especially during a natural disaster, a conflict or another type of crisis.
How Do People In Developing Countries Connect To The Internet?
While many Internet users in developed countries utilize mobile broadband as a secondary connection for business or recreation, many in the developing world rely on a mobile device and connection as their only means of accessing the Internet. While even the cheapest laptops usually retail for between $200 and $300, inexpensive phones can retail for less than $100. It is important to remember that a “$100 phone” in a developing country is not the same as a phone sold for $100 by an American mobile provider.
Many American mobile providers sell phones that would normally retail for $300-$800 with a substantial subsidy, providing that the buyer agrees to a lengthy service contract. For instance, Apple’s iPhone 5s has a retail price of $649.99 to $849.99. Mobile providers in developing countries usually sell phones for the full retail price without a service contract. Therefore, a phone costing less than $100 in a developing country would have to actually cost that amount without a subsidy. A primary reason phones are sold at full retail in many developing countries is due to prepaid phone service provided through GSM SIM cards, which are tied to a specific service provider. In countries where not all service providers cover all areas, having multiple SIM cards that are interchangeable within a single phone is common.
Battery Life And Resolution
As the cost of smartphone components continues to drop, phones designed for developing countries have become more and more capable; however, the cost of the phone itself is not the only concern. Many phones in developing countries must offer extended battery life (up to a week at a time in some cases) and screen size, resolution, and processing power are often secondary concerns. Phones in developing countries usually have two other basic components – a bright light, also known as a “torch”, and an FM radio which also need to draw energy from the battery.
Short Message Service
Although Internet users in the developing world primarily use mobile devices, this does not mean that a website designed for smartphones will serve these users. Because these mobile devices are usually underpowered, as compared to more expensive products, surfing the Internet can be text only, sometimes strictly through Short Message Service (SMS) text messages. Many Internet companies in developing countries use SMS, as opposed to another messaging protocol or a Graphical User Interface through a website, to provide service to customers. This can include texting and email, mobile banking and payments, services related to farming, and information related to healthcare – specifically medication. Google offers both Google Search and Gmail through text in many developing countries.