Mobile data needs to get this much cheaper before most of the world can afford it

By Alyssa
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By: Joon Ian Wong


Cloud computing and wireless communications are illustrated by streaks of colored lights flowing through a high altitude cloud cover.

Most of the world can’t afford mobile data at current prices. About 43% of the world’s population can afford 500 MB of mobile data a month right now. In order to double that number, data costs have to fall by 70% globally, according to a new study by Strategy&, a unit of the consulting firm PwC.

Here’s what that looks like charted in 14 countries:

The study, conducted for Facebook’s controversial initiative, which aims to provide internet access to currently unconnected populations, defines “affordable” as a prepaid data plan that allows up to 500 MB of use a month, and costing 5% or less of a person’s gross monthly income. Even those assumptions may be conservative. The average user in a rich country uses 630 MB of data a month, and that figure is kept low because of widespread availability of wifi networks, some of which are free. If WiFi use is taken into account, rich-country users eat up 2 GB of data monthly, according to the report.

What does 500MB of data get you? Every day, 800 plain-text emails, or 17 web pages, or eight minutes of video, according to a global study on internet connectivity published by in February.

The problem isn’t going away any time soon. Unlike the rich world, many emerging markets don’t have an infrastructure of wifi networks. If emerging market users behaved like their counterparts in wealthy markets, their mobile data consumption would also be as much as 2 GB, but would cost them considerably more given the lack of free wifi.

The solution, according to the report, is not rolling out more high-bandwidth mobile networks. That’s unlikely to work out economically. Instead, the authors advocate for quasi-public high-speed wifi points where users can periodically go to download data-heavy content, like videos.

YouTube’s smartphone apps in India, the Philippines, and Indonesia already have a feature that allows users to store and play back videos, even if their phones are offline. In Nigeria, a company called Kiora operates “content zones,” essentially a WiFi hotspot, where customers can download data-intensive content like movies.

The “content zone” example is just one way in which the internet of the future will develop quite differently for the next billion users. As the authors note: “The changes that will connect billions of the poorest to the Internet will also reshape it … as the global center of economic activity shifts to the South and to the East, so too will the norms that govern Internet usage.”


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Closing the Digital Divide

By Alyssa
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According to a recent study by the World Bank, only 19.2% of the people in sub-Saharan Africa and 16.6% of residents of South Asia have internet access, compared with nearly 80% of those in Europe. This dramatic gap is often referred to as the “Digital Divide,” putting developing countries at a distinct disadvantage for economic growth, social mobility and citizen engagement.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Can Low-Earth-orbit satellites succeed in beaming affordable #internet everywhere? #3DSCompass

Now, however, thanks to advances in technology and the efforts of entrepreneurial risk takers, a number of firms are racing to launch advanced satellite systems that promise to bring broadband internet access – even multichannel video streaming – to parts of the world that still lack such basics as around-the-clock electricity and landline telephones.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: If you provide Wi-Fi access to a lemonade vendor in Africa, can it transform his business? #3DSCompass

A article in the most recent issue of Compass magazine explores several different projects that aim to bridge the digital divide.  These include including OneWeb which plans to ring the Earth with a chain of 648 small satellites that can transmit to simple terminals anywhere on the planet and CMMB Vision, which aims to provide audio, video and internet services at little or no cost in China, India and the Southeast Asia countries.  It also covers Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s initiative and Google’s Project Loon.  What will such projects mean for citizens, business and government if Internet access becomes more widespread? Come discover more about these innovative projects that aim to provide digital access to every corner of the world.