Internet user growth is slowing and over half of the world’s 7 billion people are offline, the United Nations (UN) has warned in a report released this week.
Around 57% (or 4.2 billion people) do not enjoy regular access to the Internet and in the least-developed countries, only one in 10 people is online, the report found.
At the same time however, mobile cellular subscriptions exceeded 7 billion for the first time this year.
Despite the upsurge in mobile, the UN admitted that the milestone it set back in 2011 to get 4 billion internet users by 2020 is “unlikely to be achieved”.
“This year’s report finds mixed messages… Although strong growth rates continue for mobile broadband and Facebook usage, and mobile cellular subscriptions exceeded 7 billion for the first time during 2015, growth in global mobile cellular subscriptions and growth in Internet usage have slowed sharply,” the UN’s report said.
“We have reached a transition point in the growth of the Internet,” the UN’s report said.
The UN attributed a key barrier to growth as poor access in rural or remote areas due to “steep increases in marginal costs of network deployments for less densely populated or more remote areas, jeopardizing the viability of service provision on a commercial for-profit basis”.
Another “major” issue is expanding the web to represent the world’s languages online. Today, only 5 percent of the world’s languages are represented online, the UN said.
“Evidence suggests that overcoming the Internet’s language barriers will be a key determinant in helping drive demand for – and access to – Internet services and content,” the report concluded.
There is also gender inequality when it comes to broadband access. Across the developing world, nearly 25 percent fewer women than men have Internet connectivity, and this gap rises to nearly 50 percent in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
“If women and girls are unable to enjoy the same access to broadband and ICTs, including the availability of relevant content, they will find themselves at a serious disadvantage in becoming fully literate, accessing skilled jobs, learning about and exercising their rights, and participating as citizens in public and policy-making processes,” the UN warned.
Analysis- local language and SMS key to brand trust
Marco Veremis, CEO Upstream, commented on the findings: “The UN’s broadband report shows just how limited Internet connections are around the world. Even though globally about half the world is able to access the Internet, in growth markets such as Vietnam and Nigeria, this drops to as low as 6.9%. In these markets the Internet is accessed on mobile devices in the first instance, and the likes of Google are standing in the wings to provide the hardware and content to those consumers who own smartphones.
“However only 40% of phones globally are smartphones. Traditional channels, such as SMS prove to be more reliable when it comes to reach all 7.09 billion mobile phone subscriptions globally and for brands this is one which shouldn’t be ignored. Diverse content from language learning services to quizzes and local information can be shared over SMS effectively.
“A second important point with the UN report made is that only 5% of the world’s languages are represented on the Internet. Research we undertook with Ovum found that growth market consumers in Nigeria, Vietnam, India and Brazil prefer content in their local language. Brands looking to break into these markets can easily build trust with their target market simply by ensuring their content is available in local languages. A simple point but one which has so far been overlooked when offering digital services.”