While much has been made about the lack of rural connectivity, a few new facts emerged from the celebration of the first-ever World Wi-Fi Day on June 20. A study from Maravedis (News - Alert) Rethink Research, commissioned by the Wireless Broadband Alliance, reveals that connectivity is an issue even in major cities globally. In fact, 57 percent of the urban population worldwide has no access to broadband at all.
If that weren't startling enough, it actually gets bleaker. Over a third of those unconnected—37 percent—live in some of the wealthiest cities worldwide. Admittedly, some of this is reasonable when the cities involved are revealed. For instance, in Europe, urban unconnected users are lowest at 17 percent, while the Middle East and Africa have the highest rates of unconnected urbanites at 82 percent. The most connected city is London, where just eight percent of residents have no connection. Meanwhile, Lagos is the biggest laggard at 88.3 percent unconnected.
In the United States, a lack of connection is more common than some might think. Twenty-three percent of North American users have no connection, and in Los Angeles alone, just shy of one in four—24.9 percent—has no connection. Asia Pacific disconnect is around 68 percent, while in Latin America, it's just over half at 55 percent. Some might think it's all a matter of average income, and while that certainly does play a factor, age and computer literacy play factors as well.
In a bid to help change this, the Wireless Broadband Alliance has a slate of events to promote accelerating connectivity, including a City Wi-Fi Roaming initiative designed to allow users to freely roam public Wi-Fi networks in several major cities. The Alliance's CEO, Shrikant Shenwai, commented “There is a clear divide between the digital haves and the digital have-nots. And while this divide generally mirrors socioeconomic trends around the world, there are surprisingly high levels of urban unconnected citizens in major cities.”
That's a development rapidly being worked on, and some say that, when 5G arrives in earnest, we'll have much more universal connectivity. It is the hope that a fiber-like speed with 4G-level availability could represent a modern renaissance in the way we access the Web and all its various functions with wireless technologies from small cells to Wi-Fi being the primary means for reaching the masses with broadband extensively and efficiently.
That said, the numbers from World Wi-Fi Day prove that there's still a lot of work to be done to bridge the digital divide in all parts of the world, and it will be interesting to see how fast the needle can move on subsequent World Wi-Fi Days going forward.
Edited by Peter Bernstein