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India passes USA in number of Internet users

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India has overtaken the United States to become the world’s second largest Internet market, with 333 million users, trailing China’s 721 million.

A new report released by the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development also confirms that just six nations – including China and India – together account for 55% of the total global population still offline, because of the sheer size of their populations.

While Internet access is approaching saturation in richer nations, connectivity is still not advancing fast enough to help bridge development gaps in areas like education and health care for those in poorer parts of the world, according to the 2016 edition of The State of Broadband report.

Globally, an estimated 3.9 billion people are not using the Internet. But the Commission’s new report estimates that, between them, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria account for 55% of all unconnected people, while 20 countries – including the US – account for a full 75% of those not using the Internet. These findings suggest that targeted efforts in just a few key markets could help enormously in redressing the gaping ‘digital divide’ between those who are online and those still offline.

Released just ahead of the 14th meeting of the Commission in New York on September 18, The State of Broadband 2016 is optimistic about the potential of mobile broadband, with 165 countries now having deployed ‘4G’ high-speed mobile networks. As smartphone penetration reaches near-saturation in the US, Europe and mature markets in Asia like Japan and Korea, India and Indonesia in particular are expected to drive future growth. India also recently overtook the US to become the world’s second-largest smartphone market, with an estimated 260 million mobile broadband subscriptions.

The Commission argues that if today’s near-universal basic mobile phone access could be converted to high-speed mobile broadband access, mobile phones could serve as a major accelerator of development, driving rapid progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“There is a large body of economic evidence for the role of affordable broadband connectivity as a vital enabler of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, who serves as co-Vice Chair of the Commission with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “The Sustainable Development Goals for education, gender equality and infrastructure include bold targets for information and communication technology. The SDGs are achievable, but require urgent efforts and progress in the speed, degree and equality of development. The Commission believes this can be realized through broadband.”

“Broadband technologies can be powerful development multipliers,” Director-General Bokova added, “but this requires combined investments in access and in skills and in education. This is about opening new paths to create and share knowledge. It is about enhancing freedom of expression and about widening learning opportunities, especially for girls and women. This is about developing content that is relevant, local and multilingual.”

Issued annually, The State of Broadband report is a unique global snapshot of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by country data measuring broadband access against key advocacy targets set by the Commission in 2011.

The report confirms that according to latest ITU figures, by end 2016 3.5 billion people will be using the Internet, up from 3.2 billion last year and equating to 47% of the global population. Progress in the 48 UN-designated Least Developed Countries has been encouraging, with the Commission’s target of 15% of the LDC population online expected to be reached by the end of this year.

This year’s figures show that, once again, the top ten developing countries for household Internet penetration are all located in Asia or the Middle East. The Republic of Korea continues to have the world’s highest household Internet penetration, with 98.8% of homes connected; Qatar (96%) and United Arab Emirates (95%) rank second and third, respectively.

Iceland continues to have the highest percentage of individuals using the Internet (98.2%), while Luxembourg (97.3%) has surpassed Norway to take second place, and Andorra (97%) takes third place from Denmark.

Monaco remains very slightly ahead of Switzerland as the world leader in fixed broadband penetration, at over 47 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants compared with the Swiss figure of 45%. There are now seven economies (Monaco, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Denmark, the Netherlands, France and the Republic of Korea) where fixed broadband penetration exceeds 40%, up from six countries in 2014 and just one nation (Switzerland) in 2012.

Finland has the world’s highest percentage of active mobile broadband subscriptions, with 144 subscriptions per 100 people, followed by Singapore (142) and Kuwait (139). The Asia-Pacific region accounts for nearly half (48%) of all active mobile broadband subscriptions.

In total, there are now 91 economies where over 50% of the population is online, up from 79 in 2015. But whereas in 2014 the top ten countries for Internet use were all located in Europe, this year sees Bahrain (ranked 7th) and Japan (ranked 9th) join the group. The lowest levels of Internet usage are found in sub-Saharan Africa, with less than 3% of the population using the Internet in a number of countries including Chad (2.7%), Sierra Leone (2.5%), Niger (2.2%), Somalia (1.8%) and Eritrea (1.1%).

Broadband Commission Global Targets

Progress towards the Commission’s 2011 targets has been mixed. As regards Target 1: National Broadband Plans, the Commission’s advocacy around the importance of broadband has seen the number of countries with a National Broadband Plan grow from 102 in 2010, when the Commission began its work, to 151 today.

Progress on Target 2: Affordability, has seen the majority of countries now having reached the Commission’s goal of basic fixed broadband costing less than 5% of monthly GNI – including 83 developing countries. However, to date only five of the 48 UN-designated Least Developed Countries have achieved the target.

Target 3: Connecting Homes to Broadband has seen good progress, with 52% of households globally having a broadband connection. In the developed world, 84% of households are now connected, but progress has also been solid in developing countries, where household access has risen from 38% last year to 41% in 2016, exceeding the target of 40% set by the Commission in 2011.

While the Least Developed Countries are expected to attain Target 4: Getting People Online, with 15% of the population connected by the end of this year, at current growth rates the Commission’s overall global target of 60% of people online is unlikely to be achieved before 2021.

Finally, the gender gap which Target 5: Equality of Access sought to redress has in fact widened slightly, from an Internet user gender gap of 11% in 2015 to 12% in 2016, equating to 257 million more men online than women.

The Broadband Commission comprises more than 50 leaders from across a range of government and industry sectors who are committed to actively assisting countries, UN experts and NGO teams to fully leverage the huge potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to drive new national SDG strategies in key areas like education, healthcare and environmental management.

The State of Broadband 2016 is the sixth edition of the Commission’s broadband connectivity report. Released annually, it is the only report that features country-by-country rankings based on access and affordability for over 160 economies worldwide.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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