Daunting Digital Divide Dilemma

Digital divide daunting dilemma

Discussions on the digital divide and associated challenges have been around as long as internet. The actual definition comes in a variety of forms, the most common being lack of access to the internet. So the question becomes whether the problem is unsolvable or whether the landscape will change with mobile and cloud.

Broadband access was recently redefined in the US to be 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream. With this definition 17 percent of American households are on the wrong side of the digital divide. The number increases to 53 percent if we look at rural households alone. This definition is shaped around the insight that video will play a larger role going forward but assumes traffic patterns will remain asymmetric in nature.

With the introduction of Gigabit fiber access, segments of the market get a symmetric and even more powerful access, which creates a broader divide when looked at from an access speed perspective. The evolution to Gigabit fiber is the service proposition fixed network operators need to offer to meet mobile broadband competition.

Mobile and cloud have the potential to close the digital divide. Smartphones have potential to be the device that bridges the digital divide from a device perspective. If you don’t have broadband or a PC today, you are unlikely to get it anytime soon. According to a recent study by Pew Research, 10 percent of Americans rely on their smartphone as their only Internet access. The second challenge is what to use the smartphone for if you are not already connected. A common response for the non-connected when asked is that there is a lack of relevant applications and content.

The cloud has been instrumental for introducing apps that target a broader audience. Apps on a smartphone are easier to use than a browser on a PC as an entry point for the unconnected. With the low barriers of entry for cloud-based applications and access to crowd funding capital, we can expect to see applications targeting the niches yet to be connected. The combination of mobile and cloud is an even more powerful proposition to close the digital divide in the part of the world with poor fixed networks.

My predictions for the evolution of the digital divide are:

  • The introduction of Gigabit Fiber will create a three-tiered society divide – Gigabit Fiber, powerful copper/coax and inferior fixed access.
  • In addition to the digital consumer divide, we will see the emergence of a business digital divide – where businesses without adequate access will find it harder to thrive in an increasingly digital society.
  • Mobile and cloud will start to close the digital device gap – with a focus on applications rather than raw access speed.

Originally published on the Ericsson Networked Society blog on April 10, 2015

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