Quality internet for all
According to a recent report from the World Economic Forum some 4 billion people – more than 55% of the world’s population – do not use the internet. Approximately two billion people still lack access to basic mobile communications, and two billion more have mobile subscriptions that are not “internet enabled,” according to the Ericsson Mobility Report. This gap leaves people without access to important, life-changing and empowering services.
Bringing quality internet to everyone is a task that is far from complete, but it is within reach and must be a shared goal. Further, a renewed emphasis on quality of connection will underpin the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
High-speed connections enable rich and reliable services like banking and e-learning. The GSMA estimates that in 2020, there will be 5.6 billion unique subscribers. That is equal to more than the number of people with electricity at home (5.3 billion) bank accounts (4.5 billion) or running water (3.5 billion). Right now, nearly one-half of all adults in the developing world do not have a bank account or access to services from financial institutions. Also today, according to UNESCO, some 62 million girls are not in school.
With the right innovation and investments, there is an enormous opportunity to bridge the digital divide. Simple mobile access will not be enough. Bridging the divide requires affordable, good quality internet access. It is not as simple as floating balloons over continents or sending drones into remote areas to reach those still unconnected. This is where quality access comes into the picture. It is not just about remote off-grid villages – the entire installed base is equally important. There are now some 3.1 billion subscriptions on 2G according to Ericsson’s global estimates. We have set a new target to provide internet access to 175 million people per year until 2020.
That is the population that will truly bridge this decade’s gap of internet access. Furthermore, what will start to fill the inequality gaps are cost-effective solutions that are based on 3GPP and can address the scale of needed upgrades to 3G and 4G. This will also enable operators to invest where it will have the most impact. Ericsson and its partners aim to help bridge the digital divide and enable mobile broadband for all. Thus, upgrading from 2G to 3G/4G is the defining technology leap for internet access and enabling services that can help with socio-economic development.
It’s not just about connecting the unconnected. Rather, the debate needs to shift to the underserved, i.e. those with 2G/GSM coverage. While 2G provides significant value to everyday life, including some very basic data services, it does not offer the full benefits of mobile broadband. Only with mobile broadband can “ICT for development” – issues like education, health care and small business development – start to meaningfully be addressed.
Extending the reach of internet for all is essential to meet the challenges set out in the SDGs. Business-as-usual will not be sufficient to achieve many of the global goals. That will require leveraging existing and widely deployed technologies, such as broadband, but also new innovative services and the improved reach of technological solutions.
We are talking about things like mobile financial services, which offer a cost-effective and scalable way to bring millions of people into the financial system, transforming economies and boosting livelihoods. Mobile financial services can also address other sustainable development challenges, such as enabling the distribution and use of digital aid in emergency situations.
Another example is in education. Ericsson’s program with Columbia University and Millennium Promise, Connect to Learn, showcases the innovation offered by ICT to deliver good quality education to students everywhere. Today the program operates in 23 countries, benefitting 80,000 students.
With the goal of bringing communication to all, Ericsson has been a key player in the evolution of mobile networks for the past 35 years. Continuous technology upgrades have enabled us to move from 2G – which enabled voice calls and limited data transmission – to the 3G, 4G and soon 5G solutions that have the potential to make internet access for all a reality.