Missing Really Big Trends is Par for the Course

Nothing better illustrates our inability to foresee the future than the unexpected, non-linear growth and exponential impact of mobile services and the Internet.

Who would have predicted, in 1990, that voice communications would be available to nearly everyone on the planet before 2010, and used by most people by 2015?

Likewise, we sometimes miss--with all the talk about the digital divide--how fast Internet access is spreading, and how fast access speeds are growing. In Nigeria, mobile Internet adoption already is 59 percent of all mobile users.

Mobile data traffic in Sub-Saharan Africa is predicted to grow around 20 times between the end of 2013 and the end of 2019. Globally, mobile data traffic will grow 10-fold during the same period, according to Ericsson estimates.  

In fact, by about 2019, 75 percent of users in the region will have mobile Internet devices that are
video capable. That is a radical departure in a region where most devices today are feature phones.

In 2002, roughly 10 percent of people owned a mobile phone in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana. Now, adoption ranges from 65 percent to 83 percent. In just a little over a decade, mobile usage grew 600 percent to 800 percent.

Today, mobile phone ownership is as common as in the United States (89 percent adoption) in South Africa.

At the same time, fixed network adoption  penetration in the seven countries surveyed (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda) is close to zero.

About two percent of respondents surveyed across these nations say they have a working landline telephone in their house.

It is fair to say that as recently as 1980, few would have predicted most of the world’s people would be connected to communications networks by about 2015, solving a major development and social problem that had seemed nearly intractable.

Back then, the only feasible solution was deemed to be the traditional fixed telephone network. Mobility changed all that.

That precedent is one reason why many believe supplying Internet access to the world’s people likewise will be solved, with a few decades, if not within a single decade, by the use of non-tethered, mobile or other spectrum-based networks.
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