THE BLOG

Grow Connectivity for the Developing World

02/04/2015 12:29 pm ET | Updated Apr 06, 2015

One hot frontier for innovation right now is to expand and grow the wireless Internet access for the developing world and thereby open up entirely new markets for digital services.

More and more, our world is coming to consider Internet access to be a basic human right, not unlike access to clean water. This new standard of access-for-all makes sense: connecting to the internet provides information and opportunity for such a relative low cost that it seems insensible, even cruel, to deny it to anyone.

Connectivity elevates people and gives them amazing opportunities. Right now, surveys by Pew Global show that basic cell phones are nearly omnipresent even in the most impoverished regions of the world. Smart phones are gradually becoming cheaper and more accessible to more consumers, but the connectivity to serve all those smart phones isn't yet in place.

There are many areas of the world, especially large parts of the continents of Africa, South America, and Asia, where wireless internet access is sparse to non-existent. When we talk about "globalization," shouldn't the word refer to, you know, the entire Globe?

The Hard Trend Quest for Connectivity

This drive for more widely available internet access was an inevitable development. It's a Hard Trend, a trend based on inevitability, as opposed to a Soft Trend, based on something that might occur. And the emergence of more connectivity throughout the world is an example of the former -- it's well on its way and it's here to stay.

One of my earliest examples of Hard Trends was what I called "the three digital accelerators": the exponential advances in processing power, bandwidth, and digital storage. These are three factors that are growing -- inevitably -- and as they grow, so grows the tech sector.

An exponential increase in processing power, bandwidth, or digital storage, rapidly opens dramatic new possibilities for business. If we accept that these three factors are increasing -- and they are -- then we can see what's coming. One mistake you should never make is to write off anything as impossible because it is "too expensive" or "too difficult."

As a result of these inevitable accelerators, everything in tech -- including wireless connectivity -- becomes cheaper to implement and easier to accomplish.

Anticipate Change, Don't React to It

The whole reason that I spend so much time talking about Hard Trends and Soft Trends is that I'm teaching you how to reliably anticipate key changes in the business and technology landscape so that you can take steps to profit from them instead of getting swept aside.

So I encourage you to get busy right now thinking about how your company can take advantage of expanding markets that are enjoying new access to the Internet in the developing world. How can you anticipate, rather than react to this Hard Trend as it gains momentum?

How can your organization provide reliable Internet access to people who don't yet have it? How can you take advantage of the new markets that will emerge once they do? How are you pre-reacting to the sea change about to occur?

And before you write off global connectivity as a waste of your time, consider these already-in-progress global initiatives to make the Internet more affordable and accessible to people in the developing world:

1. Google's Project Loon

This is Google's effort to provide "balloon-powered Internet for everyone." Loon floats balloons up in the stratosphere. Special antennas in people's homes allow them to connect to the Loon network for online access. Project Loon is currently working to provide Internet access possible for hard-to-reach regions by building a ring of connectivity to multiple Loon balloons around the 40th parallel.

How are all those folks connecting around the 40th parallel going to benefit from your company's digital services?

2. BRCK

BRCK is a hardy $199 connectivity device built by an African company, Ushahidi, for use in regions with unreliable electricity and Internet connections. Physically robust, able to connect to multiple networks, carrying enough backup power to survive a blackout, BRCK is designed to work in off-the-grid locations.

BRCK operates with any 3G-enabled SIM card in over 140 countries, has a virtual mobile network operator (vMNO) for connectivity without a SIM card, and also has an external GSM antenna port to support connectivity.

What is your organization going to do to serve products and offerings to the huge amount of people in Africa who are now able to get online thanks to BRCK?

3. Facebook's Internet.org

Internet.org is a partnership between Facebook and mobile providers like Ericsson, Samsung, and Nokia designed to support efforts to bring internet connectivity to the two thirds of the world's population that doesn't yet have it.

So far Internet.org is currently offering an app to consumers in Zambia and Kenya that allows them to access select websites (related to health, employment, and other basic information services) without incurring data charges.

The Connectivity Lab at Facebook, part of the Internet.org initiative, is also working to make affordable Internet access possible through high-altitude long-endurance planes, satellites, and lasers.

In Conclusion: There Will Be No Such Thing As "Off The Grid"

As the whole world gets online, a vast realm of economic opportunity opens up for those new citizens of the Internet and for you. Get busy deciding now how you're going to participate in this Hard Trend and profit from it so that you're not slayed by it.

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