How close is global connectivity and what’s next?
Since the inception of the World Wide Web a quarter of a century ago, about 2.7 billion people have gained Internet access. This connectivity has reinvented life on the road for the business traveler. We can quickly connect with our co-workers back home regarding updates and new developments and, perhaps more importantly, we can stay closely connected with our loved ones.
Data from the World Bank pulled together by Esri, the international providers of geodatabase analysis and management, shows that 82 countries got Internet access between 1993 and 1998. In contrast, as of 2012, 203 countries had access and almost 80 of those countries have reached 50 percent connectivity. That means you can make a phone call from the Marambio Base in Antarctica and get data service in remote locations such as the Cook Islands and Guinea Bissau.
Although this might make connectivity sound ubiquitous, we’re still not fully connected everywhere. Only one third of the world has Internet access.
Internet.org, a non-profit group founded by some big names in connectivity, including Facebook, Samsung and Nokia, is working to level the playing field. Although speculation swirls that these companies have vested interests given most of the founding partners benefit from more people being online, the organization still brings to light a global problem.
Connectivity on the Ground
Forgetting these issues is easy for us in connected regions, but they can affect global business travelers. According to a Deloitte study sponsored by Internet.org, North America leads Internet penetration with 82 percent. Second to North America is Europe with 68 percent, a 14 percent drop. China and Latin America are at 45 percent. Southeast Asia and Africa hover at 21 percent and 20 percent respectively. In last place falls India at just 13 percent, a 69 percent drop from the levels in North America.
The MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index found in 2013 that travel to the global south was on the rise. Eleven of the top 12 cities that saw the fastest increase in air travel are east and south of Istanbul, a global region with low connectivity. India, which has the lowest penetration, is expected to see a 53 percent increase in business travel bookings in 2014, according to the International Management study.
Leaving aside for the moment the question of convenience for business travelers, connectivity could bring outstanding economic benefits. According to Internet.org’s study from Deloitte, as many as 44 million jobs in Africa and nearly 65 million jobs in India could be generated by extending Internet access to levels seen in developed economies today.
A clear answer to connecting the world doesn’t exist. “More analysis will be required to identify rapid ways whereby governments, industry and the wider ecosystem across the economic, business, and social sectors can partner to reduce some of these constraints, ”says the Deloitte report.
However, the analysis points to opportunities open to public policy makers, international and regional organizations and the telecommunications and technology industry.
“Coordinated [public] policy efforts are effective: countries with a National Broadband Plan benefit from mobile broadband penetration some 7.4 percent higher than countries without plans, once the potential impact of factors like higher average income per capita, market concentration and urbanization are discounted, ”states the report. “International and regional organizations, as well NGOs operating in these regions, have an opportunity to drive the debate on how to best employ Internet access to deliver
life-changing healthcare and education services, and enable social cohesion.”
The report calls out specific approaches for the telecommunications and technology industry: “By shifting their business paradigms to consider the needs of customers in developing markets, the industry can promote sustainable hardware and software solutions that support open source networks, affordable phones and data efficient software.”
One company in the space that is stepping up efforts to boost connectivity around the world is AT&T.
“AT&T is working hard to bring additional connectivity to our subscribers who travel internationally, ”says JR Wilson, vice president of partnerships and alliances at AT&T Mobility. According to Wilson, the telecommunications giant has a three-pronged approach to bringing more destinations online.
First, it’s working with carriers globally to launch LTE networks, which increase speed. AT&T was the first carrier in the US to launch LTE roaming for customers traveling abroad.
Second, AT&T is expanding its WiFi footprint, which is currently more than 1 million hotspots, making data roaming more seamless and allowing customers to better manage costs when traveling internationally.
AT&T’s third initiative involves growing the number of carriers in countries where AT&T might be the only roaming carrier available.
“Often times [a customer’s] mobile device is their only means of connectivity to home, so customers rely on their mobile device even more so when traveling,” concludes Wilson. “As the capabilities of the devices evolve, and the speed and quality of the networks continue to improve, customers’ expectations of what they can do with their mobile devices will continue to grow.”
Another telecommunications company working toward global connectivity is Truphone, a worldwide mobile network founded in 2006 by James Tagg, who is a noted inventor with patents on touchscreen technology.
Tagg was in a farmhouse just an hour outside of London, and no wireless operator would give him coverage. As a result, he developed the initial Truphone app, which lets him make voice calls over WiFi, now known as voice-over-Internet-protocol or VoIP. Later through an acquisition, the company moved into wireless technology, which is Truphone’s core focus today. “That’s the evolution of how our business came to be, ”says Pascal de Hesselle, vice president of marketing in the US at
Truphone. “We still have voice-over-IP technology, but without sharing any confidential secrets, in our labs, we see great value in combining those assets with our network assets.”
Truphone offers roaming service in 223 of the approximate 240 countries in the world. The “Truphone Zone, ”which offers standard rates and data, consists of eight locations: the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, the US, Hong Kong and Australia.
This international system can be especially valuable to those traveling in Europe, where going from country to country is like going state to state in the US. Instead of paying roaming fees when going one country over, travelers in Europe pay their standard, day-to-day rate, de Hesselle explains.
Its benefits aren’t limited to Europe, though, he continues. If you regularly do international business with any of the countries in the Truphone Zone, then its network could yield significant savings of around 40 to 50 percent.
Truphone also lets customers have more than one number on their phones. For example, if you’re in a business that regularly works with the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Germany, you can have a number in the UK, a Hong Kong number and a number in Germany. These numbers mean colleagues can call you at local rates.
Global businesses have taken notice of Truphone’s technology. Three of the five largest global banks are among the company’s customers.
If you’re working with some countries outside of the Truphone Zone, don’t fret. “Our business is very scalable, ”says de Hesselle. “Much of what we’ve done in the past 24 months is invest in our network, systems and tools, so we can scale the Truphone Zone quickly.”
Although Truphone runs its own network, adding a new country does require integrating with local tier-one providers of radio towers while allowing Truphone’s network to serve as an umbrella. “We have the ability to do that very quickly. We’ve added three countries in the past six months, ”says Dehesselle.
Connectivity in the Air
For the true business traveler, the progress of global connectivity matters as much at 30,000 feet as it does on terra firma.
“Since the launch of our first connected aircraft, there have been more than 50 million Internet sessions on the Gogo network, ”notes Ash ElDifrawi, chief commercial officer at Gogo, the in-flight Internet provider.
Until recently, inflight WiFi was limited to domestic flights. This year, Gogo launched inflight WiFi on Delta’s international fleet. “Gogo also flipped the switch on our Canadian network, which will allow us to provide seamless coverage throughout the US on cross-border flights and will additionally allow for expansion in Canada, ”says ElDifrawi.
Gogo has plans to launch additional international partnerships in 2014 with Aero Mexico and Japan Airlines.“This year Gogo will be launching GTO (Ground to Orbit) with Virgin America, which will allow peak speeds of up to 70 Mbps, ”says ElDifrawi. “We truly believe this will be the best performing connectivity solution in the US. In Hamburg, at the Aircraft Interiors Expo, we announced our plans to extend a similar technology globally.”
Gogo has also announced its text messaging service, which lets passengers send and receive texts over Gogo’s WiFi with their own phone numbers.
Connectivity in the Future
We’re still working toward total global connectivity on the ground and in the air. But how soon will the day come when we might be able to stay connected everywhere we travel?
“People tend to want technologies immediately, but it’s important to remember that these technologies and systems take time to deploy, ”says ElDifrawi “I can’t say the exact date of when people will be able to stay connected everywhere they go. ”But, he adds,“I can say that as far as inflight Internet goes – Gogo will continue to expand our global operations as quickly and efficiently as we can and will continue deploying.”
As more and more people get connected, a new phenomenon is arising where not merely devices in your hand, but devices all around you are part of the global network.
“The connectivity of all things, ”says AT&T’s Wilson. “We’ve seen the world adopt wireless connectivity for things like home security, home appliances, connected cars, and this trend will clearly continue with more and more things people use having wireless connectivity.”
“The Internet of Things is still in its infancy, but the services it will deliver are endless, ”Truphone’s de Hesselle says.“The ability to connect machines-to-machines, business-to-business, information-to-machines will have a significant impact on economies and services worldwide.”
So what could that impact look like? “In the future, the Internet of Things could allow you to use your smartphone to change a flight from one country to another, which then changes your Marriott hotel reservation to one in the new country, ”says de Hesselle. The change could cascade through your entire itinerary, he says. “Cancel your old taxi and get a new one to and from the airport, change dinner reservations based on hotel check in time, alert your credit card company that any charges in the new country are OK, and let the home office and your family know about the change in plans.”
Although the Internet of Things might sound like a distant future in a sciencefiction movie, the concept already has its own consortium, which includes major companies such as Cisco, General Electric, IBM and Intel along with AT&T. At the end of March, the consortium, which is formally known as the Industrial Internet Consortium, announced it’s working develop engineering standards so that objects, computing systems and sensors can connect.
In plain English, this dreamy future means that someday, when you leave for a trip on business and cannot for the life of you remember if you left the oven on, you will be able to turn that oven off from anywhere in the world – and turn off the worry that goes along with it. BT