The internet has become one of the most profound enablers of social and economic growth in our time.
Today, more than 3 billion people are connected to the internet and a significant majority of these men, women and children have made this connection using a mobile device. Mobile networks serve as the very foundation of today’s rapidly evolving digital ecosystem, enabling progress for so many and on so many levels.
Nearly ubiquitous mobile technology brings the opportunities of the internet directly to the fingertips of people everywhere, instantly connecting an entrepreneur in Delhi to an investor on Wall Street or allowing a small farmer to access the latest crop information. Mobile connections have made a huge impact on the global economy and have helped lift millions out of poverty, contributing US$3 trillion to global GDP in 2014 alone.
But the real work is just beginning.
Despite all of this incredible progress, we have yet to see the full impact of mobile connectivity and the central role it will play in enabling the social and economic progress of those yet to come online. This opportunity is enormous, particularly when we consider the 4 billion people who are not yet connected.
Connecting the Unconnected
At this year’s World Economic Forum, I’ll be joining industry leaders to discuss the key challenges facing the world today, including the future of the internet. We’ll discuss how, as a global community, we can work together to accelerate access to the internet and amplify its positive impact on individuals, industries, governments and societies. The challenge of building a stronger and more inclusive digital ecosystem is at the core of the work of mobile industry.
Not surprisingly, the majority of people yet to come online live in markets that are still developing. Many of these citizens are on low incomes and have had less access to digital literacy skills training. Women are also disproportionately affected by these challenges and, globally, they represent the most excluded segment. This has a direct impact on both the growth of these markets and the social circumstances for these women and their families.
Mobile is a key an enabler of some fundamental services that many of us take for granted, but that can be absolutely transformational for others. Consider for a moment SIM-enabled digital identity, which allows individuals to establish a legal identity for the first time, participate in the formal economy and receive government services, or mobile money, which has provided millions of people access to transfers, insurance or other financial services. These opportunities would simply not exist in a world without mobile.
Partnering for a better future
So why isn’t the whole world connected today? The answer is that mobile operators simply cannot reach all of the unconnected alone. Connectivity is a global challenge, requiring a global solution by the wider digital ecosystem, government, and non-government organisations coming together to collaborate on four key areas: network coverage, affordability, digital skills and locally relevant content. While we have made significant progress, we must work together on these key areas to accelerate connectivity.
It’s expected that by 2020, the number of people connected to the internet via mobile will increase by around 40 per cent and developing markets will be instrumental in driving this growth. This is estimated to have an impact of US $1 trillion on GDP.
Access to the mobile internet is a defining moment in a community’s economic, social and political development. The mobile ecosystem, led by network operators, will continue to work with others to break down the barriers and foster digital, social and financial inclusion. As an industry, we have already connected billions, and we won’t stop until we’ve connected the world.