How the world changed because of the mobile

Posted on November 25, 2013  /  0 Comments

I keep telling people that I (and the people associated with reforms in South Asia in the late 1990s) had no expectation that we would achieve the levels of voice and data connectivity that we have now achieved. But here is the proof, from a piece I gave to UNESCO while still Director General of Telecommunications back in 1999.

In most countries of the South, basic telecommunication connectivity is still a distant goal, leave alone the advanced Internet infrastructure that provides the basis for electronic commerce. Electronic transactions between companies and organizations, particularly those involved in worldwide commercial relationships, do take place within the context of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). However, these closed user systems do not fall within the commonly understood meaning of electronic commerce that involves transactions with consumers in an open system such as the Internet. The availability of telecommunication connectivity from home, office, or personal device is the precondition for electronic commerce. In addition, a computer and modem (or equivalent) plus a subscription to a service provider are required. These preconditions do not exist for all but a small number of individuals and organizations. The situation in Sri Lanka is illustrative.

In Sri Lanka, less than 10% of households are equipped with telephones and teledensity (calculated only for fixed-access lines) has just gone over 2 in the past year. Even with the current extraordinary growth rates for fixed-access telephones that were over 30% last year and may be as high as 40% for the current year, it is unlikely that universal connectivity in the form of telecommunications access from every home will be achieved in the near future. Domestic tariffs being driven up by the loss of international subsidies are likely to stall network expansion unless the country experiences sharply improved economic growth, most likely associated with the end of the war with the LTTE terror organization.

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