The ITU tipped mobile broadband technologies including 4G and 5G to play a key role in connecting an estimated 50 per cent of the global population which today lack internet access.
In a report by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development (established by the ITU and UNESCO in 2010 to boost broadband’s place in international policy agendas), the UN agency noted wireless technologies will enable swift delivery of digital services covering agriculture, education, health, transportation, and disaster warnings and relief.
Houlin Zhao, secretary general of the ITU, said infrastructure, investment, innovation and inclusivity are “central to ITU’s strategy to leverage the power of ICTs to expand access to broadband services and help accelerate the achievement of all UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
The Commission noted connecting those who today lack access to fixed or mobile internet is a major challenge: “The scale of infrastructure that must be built or upgraded to bridge the digital divide and deploy emerging technologies is considerable – last year, ITU estimated that connecting the next 1.5 billion people will cost $450 billion,” it stated in the report.
It noted it had taken 25 years to deliver current levels of connectivity in easy-to-reach areas of developed countries; a fact it stated highlights the difficulty in bringing even another quarter of the world’s population online in the next seven years, particularly in developing countries.
However, progress is being made. The Commission’s study noted a growing number of governments have established national broadband policies, with the number recently growing to 159 countries (roughly 81 per cent of countries in the world).
At least 15 countries now also have strategies in place for promoting the safe use of artificial intelligence, added the Commission, highlighting the growing importance of smarter connectivity.
The Commission’s research drew on insights and contributions from operators, vendors, industry bodies and regulators. This showed a growing number of governments now benchmark the status of internet access in their national broadband plans, which the Commission said highlighted the “critical role” such connectivity plays for the world’s population in terms of accessing digital services.
Another key factor highlighted in the report was the target of making broadband affordable.
The Commission noted 109 countries had achieved its targets on mobile broadband affordability, with 86 falling short. In fixed broadband, 73 countries had hit the goals compared with 122 which had not.
Zhao said the analysis and policy recommendations contained in the report come at a crucial time in terms of the importance of internet access: “Broadband infrastructure is vital country infrastructure, as essential as water and electricity networks.”Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back