UN commission is focused on bridging the digital divide
In a report released Sept. 21, the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development found that 4.2 billion people, 57% of the world’s population, don’t have regular access to the Internet.
And that’s a problem, according to the report, titled “The State of Broadband 2015.”
Here’s why: “A large body of evidence has now been amassed that affordable and effective broadband connectivity is a vital enabler of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. Although global mobile cellular subscriptions will exceed 7 billion in 2015 (with nearly half of these subscriptions for mobile broadband), growth in mobile cellular subscriptions has slowed markedly. The total number of unique mobile subscribers is between 3.7 billin and 5 billion people (according to different sources), with some observers interpreting this as an indication that the digital divide may soon be bridged. However, the digital divide is proving stubbornly persistent in terms of access to broadband Internet, including the challenge of extending last-mile access to infrastructure to remote and rural communities.”
Established in 2010, the Broadband Commission for Digital Development is tasked with making broadband initiatives more prominent features of international policy and expanding broadband access around the world with an emphasis on cooperation with the private sector.
One change mechanism detailed in the report is making the Internet more inclusive by making content available in more languages.
The report authors estimate that of the approximately 7,100 languages spoken on Earth, around 5% are represented on the Internet.
Another major point covered in the document is the need to continue efforts to extend Internet access into remote and rural areas.
“Major supply-side challenges exist in expanding the Internet and Web to accommodate the next 4 billion people – notably, extending present-day networks outside urban areas into rural or remote areas, and upgrading networks to cope with the growth in traffic. The challenge of universal access stems from steep increases in marginal costs of network deployments for less densely populated or more remote areas, jeopardizing the viability of service provision on a commercial for-profit basis.”
Connecting the remaining people without Internet access has taken shape in the research and development departments at both Google and Samsung.
Google’s Project Loon focuses on beaming wireless Internet from the sky by way of weather balloons; there’s a pilot taking shape in Sri Lanka.
In August, Samsung published a research paper that considers using thousands of satellites to connect the two-thirds of humanity without access.
Farooq Khan, Samung’s president of research and development based in Richardson, Texas, laid out the premise in a research paper titled “Mobile Internet from the heavens.”
According to the paper, the low-Earth orbit satellites could provide mobile data capacity equivalent to 200 gigabytes per month for 5 billion users around the globe; each satellite would be capable of providing terabit per second data rates “with signal latencies better than or equal to ground-based systems.”
So where does all that capacity come from? Khan looks ahead to the still developing “5G” standard, particularly accessing higher band spectrum.
“In order to address the continuously growing wireless capacity challenge, the author and his colleagues pioneered use of higher frequencies referred to as millimeter waves with a potential availability of over 100 gigahertz spectrum for 5G mobile communications,” the paper states. “At millimeter wave frequencies, radio spectrum use is lighter and very wide bandwidths along with a large number of smaller size antennas can be used to provide orders of magnitude increase in capacity needed in the next 15 to 20 years. Moreover, in order to connect the remaining two-thirds of the humankind that currently does not have access to the Internet, we will need to complement cellular and Wi-Fi networks with satellites and other aerial systems such as those using unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Other potential avenues to achieve the connectivity goals outlined by the Broadband Commission include infrastructure sharing, open access policies, affordability requirements, reducing taxes on ICT/telecom equipment and stimulating demand.