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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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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