The iPhone and Android smartphones were introduced just ten years ago, but people are still adapting. Our digital lives are expansively growing in apparent and undiscovered ways, factored by the explosion of apps, content, social behaviors, and networks. Our lives have been augmented and altered with always-on internet access.
What was once miraculous is now common. It’s no longer an amazing story to be concurrently driving for Lyft in Seattle and chatting with a shepherd resting under a tree in Somalia. (But still, that is amazing.) Another barrier breaks down every day. The stories continue to grow more diverse, and there’s strength in diversity.
In many parts of the world it’s easy to take digital access for granted. Mobile devices have made it easier for billions of people to connect to the Internet – anytime, and anywhere. The ITU reported that at the end of 2016 mobile broadband networks (3G or above) reached 84% of the global population. There are 7.5 billion people in the world and most of them now live in an area where they can access the internet. However, just because people can have access doesn’t mean they do.
Despite the decline of offline populations, there are still 3.9 billion people – that’s 53% of the world’s population – who are not using the Internet. And there are another 2 billion people in emerging markets on prepaid plans who ration their use of apps and the internet because data is too expensive.
Data pricing and traditional plans are weighty anchors, impeding discovery and exploration. The long-standing economic impediments of internet access are at odds with people’s needs. Even though there’s been enormous progress, the world is unevenly divided into the haves and have nots. Imagine not having access to the internet in the palm of your hand and you’ve imagined the experience of more than half the world.
Technology and new business models can remove the economic barriers of prepaid and postpaid data plans that have curtailed access. Sponsored access provides bridges and ladders to overcome the barriers and help people cross the borders into the internet. It’s a model that helps content providers and mobile operators as much it helps consumers.
The internet has spread like wildfire: it wasn’t designed to be contained. There’s a worldwide community waiting in the wings to gain access to the digital experience, and mobile innovation can help remove the barriers.