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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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Meet the ambassador to the future

Tilly Lockey, 14, lost her hands as a toddler, but sees it as a massive opportunity to embrace technology. She chatted with ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK about the human of tomorrow.

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Picture by Arthur Goldstuck

It is a description that defines 14-year-old Tilly Lockey: She lost her hands at the age of 15 months, and now uses bionic hands to show the world how to overcome disability.

That could easily read as an advertisement for a prosthetics company, but Tilly refuses to be defined by marketing messages. She has not only embraced what is supposed to be a disability, but wants to become nothing less than an ambassador to the future.

Picture by Arthur Goldstuck

That is in effect what she is achieving by pushing the boundaries of what is possible with artificial hands. It means that, eventually, she will have more capabilities built into her body than most able-bodied humans can imagine. She collaborates closely with Open Bionics, a start-up that is using 3D printing to create low-cost prosthetics with high-tech capabilities.

“I have very high hopes for the future,” she said during a chat on the sidelines of the SingularityU Summit at Kyalami north of Johannesburg. From Newcastle-on-Tyne in the United Kingdom, she was at the Summit as a guest speaker, chaperoned by her father Adam and sister Tia. 

“When I started working with Open Bionics, I wanted it to include lighting, music, Bluetooth, a projector in my palm, all over-optimistic things. But then I feel that is not too far away, and then a disability would turn into and enhancement of normal human hands. I’m really excited about it.

“I know there’s a couple of things they are working on right now, like trying to get the built-in battery thinner, because it’s hard to get overcoats and jackets over it, so they are trying to get the hands slimmer. They’re working on haptic feedback, to give a sense of touch of vibration, which tells me of I have a good grip on something. It could be coming soon. These hands I’m using now were made in the past five years. In another five years, I think we’ll have all of it.”

The hands in question are called Hero Arms, which its creators, Open Bionics, say is “the world’s first clinically approved 3D-printed bionic arm, with multi-grip functionality and empowering aesthetics”.

Click here to read more about the development of Open Bionics’s Hero Arms.

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How Tilly Lockey became a Hero

Part 2 of ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK’s interview with Tilly Lockey explores her amazing career.

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Picture courtesy SingularityU South Africa 2019 Summit

This is the second part of this series of articles. To start from the beginning, click here.

Tilly Lockey was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicaemia Strain B when she was 15 months old.

Her mother spotted the tell-tale signs one day in 2007: a fast-spreading skin rash that looks like pinpricks, along with symptoms like lethargy and bruising. She was rushed to hospital, but the bacterial poisoning spread so aggressively, doctors gave Tilley no chance of survival. They had to make a quick decision to amputate her hands to save her life.

Twelve years later, her future truly came into focus: “I was surprised with really cool Alita: Battle Angel bionic Hero Arms and went on the blue carpet at the world premiere of the movie with Rosa Salazar and director James Cameron.”

That pivotal moment in her life would not have been possible without the intensive efforts of her mother, Sara, to raise funds to buy something better than the metal prosthetics issued by the National Health Service in the UK. She increased Tilley’s profile with a campaign to “Give Tilley a Hand”, and today works as a fundraiser and events organiser for the Meningitis Now support group. Her involvement in an event meant she was unable to join Tilley on her trip to South Africa last week, when she spoke at the SingularityU Summit. After coming off stage, Tilley told us that Sara was her biggest inspiration in her life, and the closest to a role model.

“I’m usually a speaker at her events. I tell everyone my story and what I’m doing now and give these kids inspiration, because they often feel they can’t do anything because of what Meningitis did to them.

“I am home schooled now, which is pretty cool, because I’m able to have a career and get educated at the same time. I feel I can do a lot of things that friends can’t do. I can take a whole class on an aeroplane. I have a great time traveling and meeting so many inspiring people who are making a difference in the world.”

The form of Mengingitis that attacked her leaves hidden scars and issues that only become apparent years later. She is almost absurdly cheerful about the challenges that have faced her.

“I personally figured out that my left leg had stopped growing. I’m still finding out things it has caused, but you survive. At least I’m here and I’m alive.”

It does help that she’s comfortable in the spotlight, happy to give interviews, and eager to show what she can do with her bionic hands.

“I want to go into public speaking a lot more, and it could be an option as career. I want it to continue because it’s a lot of fun, and I feel I’ve got a story to share. If I can inspire people to change the world, I will. “

Her travels this year will still take her to Barcelona, Jakarta and New York. In the Big Apple, she will accept a humanitarian award, and intends “to give a funky speech”.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, she will take part in a fashion catwalk and do a makeup tutorial live. She learned to do makeup with one of her bionic hands when she fractured her right elbow in a fall at school

“I got makeup for Christmas and wanted to play with it, and got the idea of doing it with an open hand. It took a lot of perseverance and patience, but after studying how to do it, I was able to recreate a full makeup routine using one hand. It wasn’t a great situation at the time, but now I’m happy it happened because it got me into doing what I do now.”

What she is doing with makeup is remarkable in its own right. She gives tutorials on YouTube, where she says she is “kinda new”, as she has “only around 16,000 followers”. That may well soon expand into cooking videos.

In other words, everything is an opportunity: “I could be sad, just sit on my bed and cry, or I can live my life and realise what I’ve got: these amazing bionic Hero Arms.

“All I want to do is help give people confidence in themselves, accept who they are, accept their scars and everything about them. That they don’t have to impress everybody and just be themselves.”

Read more in the third article of the series about how family remains at the centre of Tilly’s life.

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