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Billions missing out on digital society as internet use soars

As global internet usage continues to soar, billions of people around the world are missing out on the potential benefits of getting online, according to Cisco

Internet usage around the world is soaring to unprecedented heights, yet billions of people – including most of the world’s poorest – remain unconnected, and this situation is unlikely to change in the near future, according to Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index (VNI) research.

Currently, there are thought to be a little over 3.4 billion internet users around the world (based on 2017 figures), representing 45% of the world’s population, and while this will grow to 4.8 billion users by 2022, around 60% of the global population, this will still leave at least three billion offline.

In a blog posted to Cisco’s website, Thomas Barnett, the organisation’s director of service provider thought leadership, wrote that realistically, the internet would never be a priority for many people. He noted that the internet alone cannot possibly solve all of the pressing social, economic and environmental problems that humans face.

“That being said, there are some compelling correlations that have been associated with internet access and better living conditions (or prosperity) in general,” he wrote.

In May of 2018, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said the internet was in danger of creating an “unequal wealth explosion” that would serve to exacerbate existing divides between the richest and poorest.

It pointed to the success of Vodafone’s M-Pesa micropayment service in parts of sub-Saharan Africa as evidence of how securing internet access can bring socioeconomic benefits to people in the developing world.

In spite of the digital divide, by 2022 there will be three devices or connections per person globally (with half of those being internet of things connections), rising from 18 billion in 2017 to 28.5 billion four years from now, while some of the world’s richest users will own and operate up to 10 connections each.

The vast proliferation of connections over the next four years also heralds a massive spike in data generation and consumption. Already, global internet protocol (IP) traffic has hit 122 exabytes per month and will hit 396 exabytes per month, or 4.8 zettabytes per year, by 2022. For context, at the present moment, only around 4.7 zettabytes of IP traffic has crossed over the internet since the early 1980s.

“The size and complexity of the internet continues to grow in ways that many could not have imagined. Since we first started the VNI Forecast in 2005, traffic has increased 56-fold, amassing a 36% CAGR with more people, devices and applications accessing IP networks,” said Jonathan Davidson, senior vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s service provider business.

“Global service providers are focused on transforming their networks to better manage and route traffic, while delivering premium experiences. Our ongoing research helps us gain and share valuable insights into technology and architectural transitions our customers must make to succeed.”

As forecast in previous editions of the VNI, video, gaming and multimedia will form the bulk of the traffic transiting the internet, up to 85% of the total, with video representing 82% of this.

To cope with this demand, Cisco predicts operators will ramp up the pace of their fixed and mobile broadband network investments over the next few years, with average global fixed speeds expected to nearly doubly from 39Mbps to 75Mbps by 2022, and average mobile network speeds expected to triple from 8.7Mbps to 28.5Mbps.

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