Mobile operators will be crucial to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s internet.org initiative aimed at bringing connectivity to the five billion people around the world currently without access to the internet.
The joint announcement of internet.org said mobile operators “will play a central role in this effort by driving initiatives that benefit the entire ecosystem”.
Founding members Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung will “develop joint projects, share knowledge and mobilise industry and governments to bring the world online”. Academics and NGOs are also likely to join the venture in the future.
The partners will look to develop and adopt technologies that make mobile connectivity more affordable and reduce the cost of delivering data. There will also be investment in tools to reduce the amount of data required to use most apps and internet services.
Sustainable new business models will be pursued to “align incentives” for mobile operators, device manufacturers, developers and other businesses.
Potential projects include the development of lower-cost, higher-quality smartphones and a greater localisation of services by increasing the number of languages supported by mobile operating system.
In a blog post, Zuckerberg said the issue of connecting the whole world is “one of the greatest challenges of our generation” due to the internet’s role as the foundation of the global knowledge economy.
Despite a large proportion of the world’s population likely to have smartphones as prices come down over the next five years, the majority will not have access to the internet due to the relatively high cost of price plans.
According to internet.org, just over a third of the world’s population (2.7 billion people) currently have access to the internet with adoption growing at less than 9 per cent per year.
With the majority of data plan revenue going back into building infrastructure, costs need to come down if the industry is to “sustainably service everyone”, Zuckerberg continued.
In an interview with CNN’s New Day, Zuckerberg said internet.org is not about gaining more users and increasing profits and “much more about our mission, than making any kind of profits in the near-term”.
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg said his company believes internet access “improves people’s lives and helps build a more sustainable planet”, while Nokia chief Stephen Elop said universal internet access will be “the next great industrial revolution”.