For years, the concern about connectivity was about “the last 100 meters,” or the distance from an Internet trunk line or fiber optic line to the house. Cable broadband has been a major factor in solving this problem in the developed world. But while we weren’t watching, mobile broadband has gained serious ground nearly everywhere, and is poised to dominate in the coming years.
As part of a special report, the Economist has two articles about why this is happening. The first discusses how mobile phones have become nearly universal, enabling a communications revolution in places once thought inaccessible or too impoverished to benefit from the broadband revolution:
“It looks highly likely that global mobile cellular teledensity will surpass 100% within the next decade, and probably earlier,” says Hamadoun Touré, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, a body set up in 1865 to regulate international telecoms. Mobile teledensity (the number of phones per 100 people) went above 100% in western Europe in 2007, and many developing countries have since followed suit. South Africa passed the 100% mark in January, and Ghana reached 98% in the same month. Kenya and Tanzania are expected to get to 100% by 2013.
The change is especially impressive in developing economies, which accounted for 25% of mobile devices in 2000 but now account for 75%, according to another article in the Economist.
The special report contains much more, including one entitled “Beyond Voice,” which shows how creatively these connected devices are being deployed and exploited. In addition, the dimensions of disruptive technologies are worth noting: business models emerging from providers able to profit by serving low-income populations the incumbents wouldn’t bother with, and cheap phone manufacturers, once dismissed by major companies, and are now making better phones and bringing some serious competition.
For publishers, this form of connectivity is well worth watching. Remember, broadband and wireless are largely what enabled Web 2.0, social media, and the real-time web. With broadband becoming more available and useful through pocket-sized computers (aka, phones), the communication and publishing world will likely change again.
Distribution is still vital to publication. With the connectivity gap being closed by common, cheap, and useful devices, the pragmatists among us should start planning the future now.