Half the world population will have mobile internet by 2020

The GSMA, a mobile industry organization, predicts that mobile Internet will help connect half the world's population by 2020, when the globe is supposed to host 7.7 billion people. For many people, a smartphone will be the only way to connect to the Internet. The number of users in the developed world will rise from 700 million to 800 million, but in developing countries, the number will double from 1.5 billion to 3 billion connected users.

As impressive as that number is, the road to connecting 1.5 billion people is full of obstacles. For many people, an Internet connection simply isn't affordable; it can cost money they need for more basic needs. Sufficient carrier and Internet infrastructure is another major obstacle.

Last year, I attended Mark Zuckerberg's keynote at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) here in Barcelona. At that time, everyone was asking about Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp and how that was going to impact business and privacy. But Zuckerberg was focused on "connecting everyone in the world" and how Facebook was working to make that goal possible. At this moth's MWC Zuckerberg reiterated the same strategy, showing some promising results in countries in Africa and South America.

Facebook has been doing a few things to get more people connected in developing countries. One program is Facebook on SIM, which involves partnering with selected cellular carriers to embed basic Facebook functionality on SIM cards for basic feature phones. The service works without cellular data, using the SMS service. Users can send and receive messages, update their status, and upload small pictures. The idea is to give potential smartphone buyers a glimpse of the Facebook possibilities on a mobile device.

The second program, also working in selected markets, is free cellular data for Facebook, up to a certain limit. In this way, the social network signs up more users on basic smartphones, hooks them up to apps, and helps cellular carriers get more paying customers when the "free" data allowance runs out. Facebook wants to expand this program everywhere, partnering with cellular providers, giving free data allowances for six months.

This program has been heavily criticized. Chile and other countries have banned it, because it is against their net neutrality laws. A similar program in some countries offers free rides on WhatsApp and Twitter apps.

Providing free data access to some apps could be attractive, but it is no more than a marketing trick to "hook" people online, so they want more and start paying monthly fees. The better solution for many people is try to connect to some free WiFi hotspots, but those are widely available only in developed markets, where most people already have data plans.

During a recent visit to Morocco, I couldn't find any WiFi access points except in the hotel and some expensive cafes and restaurants -- places that most Moroccans can't afford. Also, the infrastructure of the "wired" Internet is extremely poor, and the bandwidth is very limited. If the only way to get online is through a cellular carrier, then someone has to pay for it.

Another big expense for the next billion users is the smartphone. There are several models available for less than $100, but their features are limited. Moreover, $100 can be six months' worth of salary in some developing countries, such as Zimbabwe,.

However, there are some promising news aiming to address this problem. One is the $40 Orange Klif 3G Smartphone running Firefox OS, 4.5-inch screen, a 5-megapixel rear camera, 3G UMTS connectivity, WiFi, and 8GB of memory. It will be available soon in these 13 markets: Egypt, Senegal, Tunisia, Cameroon, Botswana, Madagascar, Mali, The Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kenya, Mauritius, and Vanuatu.

And Google's Android One program includes several phones made by different manufacturers that are already selling in India and soon will be available in Eastern Europe with a price of about $90.

Even with more affordable phones, though, carrier and Internet infrastructure is a big issue for mobile Internet growth. In the US, some parts of Asia, and Western Europe, we are already experiencing service issues due to network capacity, especially in large cities.

What would happen in a place such as Cairo if the number of smartphone users were to triple in five years? Without big investments in connectivity, 3G/4G cells, and data centers, most local carriers would not be prepared to handle the explosion of data usage by so many devices.

At the same time, those new users would not be able to afford the monthly fees paid by subscribers in developed countries, so it will be a challenge for carriers to improve the infrastructure. But connecting half the world could bring new opportunities, improve education and services, and hopefully raise the quality of life of billions of people.

A previous version of this article was first published as Mobile Internet Faces Big Obstacles on 
Network Computing

The eCash Revolution Is Just Getting Going

Almost every day, new payment systems -- new “types” of money -- are being introduced to consumers, businesses, banks, financial institutions, and governments.

As a result of all these new “electronic” forms of money, handling cash has become increasingly expensive. Printing notes costs money; moving them around costs more money; and then keeping them secure, counting them, and finally destroying them even more money.

Trying to keep track of all that cash -- much of which is off the radar -- is also expensive. Cash is the most private and untraceable way to conduct any transaction, and the best way to store “money” without accountability....

Read the rest of the article on our sister site eWonga - The Future of Money

Chromebooks Offer High Graphics Performance

As previously announced by Google and VMware, the firms have been working to bring VMware BLAST support to Chromebooks, and nVidia also announced that they are the hardware launch partner for this project. nVidia's Tegra K1 is the first Chromebook SoC (system on a chip) to support BLAST, with nVidia leveraging K1's hardware video decoder to decode the BLAST video stream.

nVidia sees GPU virtualization becoming increasingly important for enterprises--just as CPU virtualization has over the last decade--and in the last two years has been working on executing a plan on break into the GPU virtualization market.

I had the opportunity to talk with VMWare's Erik Frieberg, VP of marketing, end-user computing, during the AirWatch Connect event in London. He shared with me the vision of VMware about Chromebooks, and the opportunity for corporations and power users to deploy these flexible machines for high demanding applications using virtualization and GPU power.

He told me:

Chromebooks are finding a niche in the marketplace. What we've seen on Chromebook is that getting access to the MS applications is a game changer. What we have just announced was not just the basic windows applications, but graphic intensive applications. We did a joint announced with Google and nVidia [where] we used Autodesk and few others.
We are supporting the new server side chipsets coming with vSpere 6 as the new processing capabilities available to Chromebooks. Now you are getting  into workloads that you might think: wow I can't never do this on a Chromebook, I can't never do movie editing, I could not do 3D design, but now it is totally available on a Chromebook.

This makes graphically demanding applications, such as Adobe Illustrator CC, Autodesk AutoCAD®, and productivity applications like Microsoft Office completely fluid. Acer's NVIDIA Tegra K1-powered Chromebooks, already shipping, are among the first laptops to take advantage of this future technology.

For organizations that need to deploy a large number of workstations the new Chromebooks and Chromeboxes allow IT to quickly configure the devices. Users can access the same files from either their Chrome browser or a Horizon View desktop by using Google Drive.  In addition, the Horizon View virtual desktop can be configured with Google Cloud Print to securely print documents to the same printer that's being used by your Chromebook.

One advantage of Chromebooks is the Powerwash feature, which enables IT to quickly and easily clear all local user data stored in the device by resetting it to its original factory state. Using this feature, all data stored on the Chromebook such as downloaded files, photos, owner permissions, and saved networks, will be deleted for all accounts. After clearing this data, the IT professional is guided through the initial setup again. Resetting the device doesn't affect the accounts themselves, or any data synced to these accounts.

Acer's Chromebooks also include a trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2 chip that encrypts data on the system to secure it, and ease recovery by IT pros in the case of device theft.

It is increasingly clear that Chromebooks will continue to gain both consumer and enterprise support. Their price, ease of setup and rollout, long battery life, security features, and now the possibility to run intensive graphics applications, make them an appealing mobile device for people that need a light, connected machine, with strong security, to work on the road.