Mobile broadband is best prospect for connecting the developing world, UN says

Mobile broadband will provide a 'pivotal role' in connecting parts of the world that are not yet connected, the United Nations says.

UN report mobile broadband connecting rural

Along with announcing that more than a half of the world's population is still not on the Internet, the United Nations' Broadband Commission, in its latest report (PDF), made some prophecies.

One question it's trying to answer is which technologies, or combination of technologies, will "prove the most promising" for connecting the next billion. And everyone after that.

At the end of 2015, 3.2 billion people will be online, according to the UN. That means another 4 billion will still be offline.

Just how will those who aren't yet connected get online?

Balloons, lasers, drones? Sorry, they aren't the most likely to do it, according to the UN.

Best technologies

Mobile broadband will provide a "pivotal role," Phillippa Biggs, the lead author of the UN's report, said in a YouTube video presentation about the report. Specifically, she's talking about 3G and 4G services.

They "offer the most immediate prospects," she says. Investment, however, is still needed, and Biggs says she doesn't know how it's going to get paid for.

It's not "entirely clear always" where or when the investment will come from, she says.


"Satellite also plays a very important role," Biggs says. So does backhaul for mobile. A combination of technologies will be necessary, she thinks.

Difficult terrain like mountainous areas are benefiting from advances in satellite technology.

New approaches are also "emerging with drones," she adds.

Fastest ever

Mobile broadband is the "fastest-growing Information and Communications Technology (ICT) service in history," the report says.

In total, mobile broadband subscriptions will reach 3.5 billion (including those with multiple subscriptions) by the end of the year, according to the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency that contributed to the report.

Mobile overall is growing strongly, with a cellular subscription global penetration rate of 97 subscriptions per 100 people projected by the end of 2015.

Altogether, mobile subscriptions (of all kinds) will reach 7 billion by the end of the year, the report says.


But the fact that only 43% of the total world population is online is among the disappointing figures found in the report.

As one would expect, though, Internet penetration is approaching a saturation point in the developing world, with 82% online.


Broadband is becoming more affordable, though, the study says. Fixed broadband costs have dropped an average of 65% worldwide since 2010.

But there are often parts of a country or communities where "affordable broadband has not been achieved, especially in rural and remote areas," the report says.

Surprisingly, the rate of Internet expansion is slowing, the report says. The reason indicated is that populated areas are saturated and broadband services are now being built out in less-populated, remote areas.

The last stretch

The last chunk of the world may prove the most difficult to connect, according to the UN's report.

In 2011, the UN Broadband Commission created targets, which included that Internet user penetration should reach 60% worldwide by 2015.

Not only has that not happened, but the commission thinks it seems "unlikely to be achieved before 2020."

"Likewise, the milestone of four billion Internet users is unlikely to be surpassed before 2020," the commission added.

So balloons, Facebook satellites, drones et al, it's still wide open for you.

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