Unified Communications Featured Article

More Bridges Across Global "Digital Divide"

January 30, 2009

The addition of hundreds of million of new mobile subscribers in 2008 had an unexpected consequence: the bridging of the digital divide between those who have Internet access and those who don’t, according to analysts at Oliver Wyman.

Dramatic global growth in mobile Internet access took hold in 2008, especially in emerging markets with low PC-penetration levels, and has now reached the tipping point, the firm says.
A review of first quarter 2008 data for leading telecommunications firms shows that more than half of their $8 billion in monthly data revenues comes from wireless Internet access plans, up from 40% a year prior, the firm says.
About 1.5 billion people—about 23 percent of the world’s 6.7 billion people—now use the Internet, double the number of users five years ago. The bulk of the increase is primarily due to the exponential growth of mobile phone networks in developing countries, where fixed-line networks are sparse, and cell phones are increasingly used as Internet access devices.
That's a somewhat stunning development for anybody who has followed decades of near hand-wringing by policy makers seeking to bring "telephony" to new regions. But credit a combination of developments, ranging from rapid economic growth to Moore's Law, a match between increased involvement in market economies and the role the Internet can play in helping those involved in market economies, to a determined push into developing regions as mobile growth has reached developed market saturation, for the helpful changes.
The spread of the wireless Internet has implications for pay TV, telephony, and data-access providers, as consumers demand seamless content and applications across multiple fixed and mobile devices, Oliver Wyman argues. As a byproduct, service providers are losing their "control" of customer relationships, as broadband Internet access on both mobile and fixed networks allows consumers and application providers to establish direct relationships.
At the same time, even devices are emerging as iconic products that consumers develop relationships with. That's both a good thing--they drive adoption--and a bad thing, as the relationship a user has is with a device, not a network. In some cases, device providers are launching content services of their own, as well, possibly competing with services provided by their carrier partners.
But there are opportunities as well, as software and networks now allow business arrangements of exquisite granularity. In some cases, that means ecosystem partners also compete in some realms.
In other cases, the platforms allow industry segments to compete with others. France Telecom offers Ligue French soccer matches on mobile, PC, or TV through its Orange brand, and even produces its own content, essentially competing with multi-channel video providers and TV broadcasters alike.
Similarly, Chungwa Telecom, a leading Taiwanese carrier, has partnered with financial institutions, universities, online music companies and other specialized content partners such as Major League Baseball to create new content services.
In new markets, as in older markets, we see that Internet access is both a good thing and a bad thing, for just about everybody. For all the obvious end user advantages, the Internet destroys all forms of arbitrage based on obscurity, and promotes any activity benefitting from transparency and choice. Of course, when users and partners exercise choice, it is not always good for competitors.

Gary Kim is a contributing editor for unified communications. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jessica Kostek

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