Some of you may recall that over three and a half years ago, on February 4, 2006, I predicted that by 2013, at least 900 million people in emerging nations, 80% of whom had no Internet connection in 2006, would have access to a wireless broadband connection through their cellphones. That seemed like a bold prediction at the time.
But in the Economist, there is a special report on mobile phones in the developing world, and this chart depicts the progress towards my prediction quite nicely. Mobile broadband subscribers will go from nearly zero in early 2006 when the prediction was first made, to 1.4 billion by 2013 (of which 900 million can safely be assumed to be in emerging nations).
It is often said that no other invention has done more for so many people so quickly than the mobile phone, given the large number of people who did not have even a landline phone prior to getting a mobile phone. However, the inital deployment of rudimentary mobile phones was just the beginning. As 3G broadband at speeds greater than 1 mbps spread to a billion people with no prior Internet access, the entire nature of their existence is transformed. As per this second chart from the Economist report, the GDP boost from broadband Internet penetration is far higher than the already-impressive boost we have seen from simple mobile access, and we can thus expect another, stronger wave of human advancement as mobile broadband diffuses. Simultaneously, the entire nature of the Internet is also transformed. Think of the massive developmental catalyst such a rapid technological diffusion would be. Child literacy would rise as the educational materials of the full Internet will be available in locations where no libraries exist, making near-universal child literacy a reality within a decade. Agricultural and fishery supply chains will shorten tremendously. Disaster relief will become far easier, as will the apprehension of criminals. The upliftment that once appeared to be a process of decades will now happen in mere years.
We can thus proceed to the next prediction, which is that by 2020, 4 billion people will have 4G wireless broadband access on their handheld mobile phone, at speeds exceeding 100 Mbps. In other words, a landline speed that even wealthy Americans could not have in 2005 will be available wirelessly to billions of the very poorest people just 15 years later, in 2020. Imagine that.