Want to connect the next billion? Think economics, not heroics

One of the dominant themes in this column is the idea that the "next billion" and the "next next billion" will determine the future of technology, and especially mobile technology. Africa leapfrogged the rich world in mobile adoption and mobile payments, and could leapfrog everything else. The next dominant mobile platform could very well come from the emerging markets or, like Firefox OS, be geared towards the emerging markets.

One big piece of this mobile puzzle is connectivity. For this to happen (and many other good things besides), the next billions of mobile phone owners must have connectivity.

Many people in Silicon Valley are well aware of this. Two of the most important Silicon Valley companies, Google and Facebook, have big projects at hand trying to bring connectivity to these next billions.

Facebook's Internet.org is an industry consortium with telcos, networking equipment providers, and phone manufacturers designed to bring the prices of connectivity down to the next billion and striking "zero-rate" deals with carriers to let users access a limited version of the internet (naturally, including Facebook) for free.

Google's project, Google Loon, is a lot more exciting: Google is building high-altitude, solar-powered balloons which will roam above the atmosphere and beam Wi-Fi signals down to small and sturdy reception stations, so that anyone everywhere can access wireless internet.

These are worthy projects. But as the blogger Blair Reeves, at Bullish Data, points out in an excellent post, they're kind of beside the point.

There is a lot of enthusiasm in tech circles for whiz-bang technology that will solve the problems of poverty in one stroke. The obvious problem is twofold: Poverty is actually an enormously complex phenomenon, combining not just technological, but also cultural, social, economic, political and environmental issues; and most techno-utopian übergeeks are actually often clueless about these issues.

Connectivity in the emerging and poor worlds is already skyrocketing, with no indication of slowing -- indeed, only accelerating. And this is happening in the most boring way imaginable: Because demand for connectivity is very high, companies are building up networks and other infrastructure, and prices are going down as scale increases.

Telcos in Africa and India are already expanding coverage and adding broadband because ustomers are demanding it. And they can do it cheaply through one of the best-known economic phenomenons: As scale increases and as technology becomes commoditized, prices drop like a rock.

The other big barrier to poor people accessing the internet is the cost of the device itself, especially since most of these markets are pre-paid. But prices of smartphones are also dropping like a rock, and also for the very same reason: The smartphone market now has enormous scale, and all of the components you need to make a smartphone (not a top-of-the-line smartphone, but a smartphone) have become commoditized. The reason why Xiaomi and ZTE (and other Chinese companies you haven't heard of) are making cheaper smartphones every day isn't because of some high-flying philanthropic drive to connect the world; it's because of good old-fashioned profit-driven motives.

This isn't to say that Google Loon and Internet.org are hopeless or useless. To the contrary -- any effort towards increasing connectivity is good, and they might do real good.

But it just serves to highlight that increasing connectivity is coming one way or another, and probably sooner than you think. And when it does, the change will be felt not just in Lagos and Mumbai, but in Paris and New York.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags africaMobile & BYODProject LoonFirefoxGooglesecurityInternet.orgFacebook

More about FacebookGoogleindeedXiaomiZTE

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place