The rapid spread of the internet and mobile phones around the globe has failed to deliver the expected boost to jobs and growth, the World Bank has revealed in a report that highlights a growing digital divide between rich and poor.
According to the Bank’s new “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends”, the number of people connected to the internet has more than tripled in the past decade, from 1 billion to an estimated 3.5 billion. In many developing countries, more families own a mobile phone than have access to electricity or clean water.
But the report said the benefits of rapid digital expansion had been skewed towards the better-off and the more highly skilled, who were better able to take advantage of the new technologies. By comparison, 4 billion people or 60% of the world’s population had no access to the internet.
The Bank said digital technology could be transformational. It said 40% of adults in East Africa pay utility bills using a mobile phone, while 8 million entrepreneurs in China – a third of them women – use an e-commerce platform to sell goods domestically and export to 120 countries. The report said text messages were proving useful in reminding people with HIV to take life-saving drugs, while teacher absenteeism in Uganda had been tackled by headteachers using mobile phones to monitor attendance and transmit data to a central database.
Even so, the effect of technology on global productivity, expansion of opportunity for the poor and middle class, and the spread of accountable governance had been less than expected. Digital technologies were spreading rapidly, but digital dividends – growth, jobs and services – had lagged behind.
For example, Africa has few countries with affordable entry-level fixed-broadband plans and many where the service remains beyond the reach of most people-the high cost in lower-income countries of broadband subscriptions is beyond the reach of Africa’s more numerous low-income households.
In almost half of the African Least Developed Countries (LDC), 31 including Uganda, Rwanda and the Central African Republic, the internet subscription price exceeds average income per capita levels.
Also, it is generally agreed that the gender digital divide stems primarily from the structural inequalities that exist between men and women in many societies. This means that women are less likely to reap the benefits of new economic and social opportunities of ICT, including employment and access to money.
The reasons for the digital divide across the world are highly complex and poverty is certainly one of the barriers to access, alongside weak network infrastructures which do not always reach into rural areas. Indeed, the cost installing hard-wired networks into highly remote regions is financially beyond many countries and especially in Africa.
The digital divide is the perfect storm of circumstances which prevents many people in the world getting reliable access to the internet, benefiting from the global economy and virtual opportunities to reap digital dividends.
Our Solar IP CCTV System (SICS) was originally designed to provide remote telecommunications and surveillance in highly remote and hostile environments, specifically oil and gas fields. We have worked with Chevron in the Caspian region to deliver 58 SICS systems into the Tengiz oilfield, Kazakhstan. Completely solar powered, the SICS provides wireless telecommunications and point to point networks in temperatures ranging from -40 to +80 degrees and is impervious to any atmospheric corrosion. The system can be rapidly moved into a location without hardwired power or data and be deployed in under 30 minutes and deliver 150Mbps network connection up to 26km.
Each system is custom designed for the target country, to ensure the solar array and integrated battery system is appropriate for the solar potential in the region.
By removing the surveillance equipment and replacing with carrier-class wireless point to point radios, the system can provide 1.2Gbps up to 300km. For shorter distances, the SICS can deliver 2Gbps at 20km.
While the Solar Internet System (SIS) can provide the highspeed wireless backbone into rural areas, it can communicate with other SIS systems to re-distribute the internet connection even further into remote locations. For example, it is feasible to provide wireless and free to air internet using our solar power technologies without limit in terms of distance.
Once the wireless connection has reached a rural village, then this connection can be redistributed to homes, schools and hospitals. As the SIS does not require hard wired power or data, it can be placed into this chain and handover the high-speed internet connection from one system to the next and so on, until it reaches the destination. Also, along the chain, a slice of bandwidth can be separated from the main backbone and distributed as WIFI zones or hotspots, so connecting people on the way to the destination, as well as the village at the end of the backbone.
In addition, in extremely remote locations where the point to point network cannot reach or there is not a line of sight from one system to the next, we can integrate both satellite technologies and use analog television frequencies to push up to 30Mbps over 50km into these locations. This could be a village in a mountainous region, or deep in the jungle. These frequencies do not require line of sight and can travel long distances to connect communities.
The Solar Internet System overcomes many of the considerable challenges in the digital divide, for example:
- Barrier: Remote communities have poor access to the internet, due to location and high cost of connectivity
- Solution: Solar powered and wireless free to air networks can provide high-speed connectivity over extreme distances, reaching into remote and rural areas
- Barrier: Internet data costs are prohibitive in comparison to income levels
- Solution: Free to air wireless networks drastically reduce the cost of internet access, a single connection can be shared across an entire village
- Barrier: High cost of installation of fixed line internet over extreme distances
- Solution: Free to air internet connectivity removes the cost of expensive civil engineering and hard-wired network infrastructure and is easier to maintain
By leveraging solar-powered technologies to deliver carrier-class internet connections, which are free to air into remote or rural communities around the world, is a fundamental step change and enables those on the other side of the digital divide to get connected and leap forward into the 21st century.