In the 1990s and early 2000s, the World Bank Group and other development partners actively promoted the mobile revolution, opening up telecommunication sectors that were largely monopolistic and state-owned. The mobile phone, which was seen initially as a luxury good, became a key driver of growth and social inclusion in Africa, South Asia and throughout the world.
In the last decade or so, mobile phones have been appearing in the least likely of places: in the hands of a Masai warrior in the middle of the Kenyan bush, on a fishing boat off the coast of Vanuatu’s Malekula Island, and even on top of Mount Everest. The digital revolution has reached much of the world and has had a powerful impact.
The 2016 World Development Report on “Digital Dividends” paints a clear picture of the remaining digital gap and of the barriers that are keeping countries from reaping the dividends associated with the digital revolution. One of the key points that the report makes is that, for digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere, affordable access to high-speed internet is key.
The quality and price of high-speed internet access still varies widely from country to country. For instance, the report shows that users in Pakistan pay less than US$1.50 per month per GB of mobile internet. But users in Africa can pay up to ten times that amount. These differences arise from policy failures as much as from differences in countries’ natural endowments.
There is a need to enhance fixed broadband infrastructure. While mobile broadband has helped fill the gap for high-speed Internet access in developing countries, small screen devices are not necessarily suitable for running a digital business and mobile networks still need strong backhaul infrastructure.
There is also a need to strengthen analog complements to digital technologies, such as regulations that create a vibrant business climate and skills that let firms leverage digital technologies to compete and innovate.
Somalia’s ICT sector – particularly mobile communications – is already one of the brightest spots in its economy. It could soon reach a tipping point where market competition, equitable distribution and demand-driven efficiency can grow exponentially and transform operating environments for both government and individual citizens.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of a public sector presence in a 20-year civil war, private, unlicensed mobile companies, using satellite for international communications, have emerged to meet the high demand for communications, especially with the large Somali diaspora. In terms of mobile penetration rates, Somalia is a leader in the region, with higher rates and lower prices than neighboring Djibouti and Ethiopia, which both enjoy higher levels of stability but retain state-owned monopolies.
However, the current lack of a legal framework for both the ICT and financial sectors is a source of risk potentially cramping the Somali economy. Critical areas – including remittances, mobile banking and mobile-money services and mobile services – are influenced and, in some cases, controlled by large companies. The market structure is still evolving, with de facto consolidation around larger companies, resulting from mergers and alliances. Although consolidation can bring some consumer benefits and help in achieving economies of scale, the future licensing framework will need to take into account competition policy considerations and enforce interconnection.
An important opportunity for the passing of regulation for the ICT sector, in the form of Somalia’s Communications Act, is now at hand.
What is online outsourcing, and how could countries leverage it to create new jobs for youth and women? Those are questions we will help answer as part of an upcoming report and toolkit.
The World Bank, in collaboration with our partners at the Rockefeller Foundation, recently met with government agencies and other key stakeholders, as well as the online work community in Kenya and Nigeria, to discuss these issues. Online workers from these countries also presented their stories, including the highly inspirational story of Elizabeth, a retiree who was able to take in an orphan and provide for her schooling, as well as afford a lifestyle upgrade because of her online outsourcing work.
Elizabeth, 55, originally worked as a stenographer. Her husband died in 2003, and she is the sole breadwinner for three of her own children and one other orphan who she has informally adopted. She works online on writing platforms, and is currently being on- boarded to start work with CloudFactory. At the moment, she earns between US$50–80 per week working online; this is her the sole source of income, from which she pays her family’s rent, living expenses and short-term loans.
“I lost my husband in 2003, so I am the mother and the father," Elizabeth says. "I am self-sufficient. Online work does not confine me to an 8-5 time frame. I can work at my convenience, and I can manage my own home while I work.”
Online outsourcing (OO) is providing this kind of flexibilty and earning potential to millions of people around the world. OO generally refers to the contracting of third-party workers and providers (often overseas) to supply services or perform tasks via Internet-based marketplaces or platforms. Popular platforms include Elance-oDesk (now known as Upwork), Freelancer.com, CrowdFlower and Amazon Mechnical Turk. The industry’s global market size is projected to grow to US$15-25 billion by the year 2020, and could employ at least 30 million active workers from all over the world.
The world is becoming more digitized, interconnected and dependent on the Internet for opportunities and economic growth. Today, there are 7.4 billion cellular phone subscriptions in the world, which means citizens of the poorest countries can access cell phones more easily than toilets and sanitation.
The Internet of Things (IoT), which brings in the promises (and perils) of totally interconnected devices, is already mainstreamed in our everyday lives, with sensor-equipped cars, phones, utility meters and even houses. Our refrigerators, equipped with sensors, are making decisions for us, based on their capacity to analyze data and execute embedded algorithms related to dietary needs.
But how can these advances help ensure more free, open, secure and empowering connectivity rather than a host of undesirable side effects?
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – which surveys the ICT sector on an annual basis through a formal survey involving regulators, operators and original equipment manufacturers – the Internet of Things (IoT) is currently composed of 25 billion connected devices around the world. According to the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), this number will grow to 50 billion devices worldwide by 2020. These devices collect vast amounts of information on industrial, organizational and personal behavior, and gathers users’ preferences that can be leveraged to improve delivery of products and services, health, education, entertainment and shopping.
Therefore, IoT will bring important socio-economic advantages to those connected – but without guidance, proper policies, legislation and globally adopted codes of conduct (“netiquette” as we used to call it), it could also bring a range of challenges.
Pre par meseci su Estonija, Letonija i Litvanija završile petogodišnju gradnju Baltičkog autoputa – kičme širokopojasne mreže koja koristi prednosti postojećih optičkih kablova koji poseduju tri baltička energetska postrojenja. Optička kičma dugačka 3000km prolazi kroz baltički region povezujući nove mega centre za podatke u severnoj Evropi Talinu sa čvorištem za podatke zapadne Evrope u Frankfurtu i ima mogućnost daljeg povezivanja sa Rusijom i Belorusijom. Izgradnja i funkcionisanje baltičkog autoputa je odličan primer regionalne saradnje i zajedničke infrastrukture.
Baltički autoput je proizvod nekoliko aktera - Data Logistics Center (deo od Lietuvos Energija, državne holding kompanije litvanskih snabdevača energijom), Latvenergo (državne kompanije za električnu energiju u Letoniji), i Televõrk (podružnica privatne energetske firme Eesti Energia iz Estonije). Za razliku od drugih ova mreža je građena tako što su kablovi sa optičkim vlaknima polagani preko visokonaponskih dalekovoda i gasovoda koji pripadaju energetskim kompanijama, umesto korišćenja različitih segmenata operatera za telekomunikacije koji su već bili “priheftani”. Sada klijenti baltičkog autoputa imaju mogućnost da koriste regionalnu infrastrukturu iz jedne tačke.
Para disa muajve, Estonia, Letonia dhe Lituania kanë përfunduar ndërtimin 5 vjeçar të autostradës së Baltikut - rrjet backbone i broadbandit (brezit të gjerë) i cili shfrytëzon asetet e kabllos optike të tri kompanive energjetike Baltike. Backboni fibër pa nyje prej 3000 km që përshkon tërë regjionin e Baltikut, lidhë mega qendrat e të dhënave të Evropës së veriut në Talin me hubat e të dhënave të Evropës perëndimore në Frankfurt dhe ka mundësinë e zgjerimit të lidhjes me Rusinë dhe Bjellorusinë. Ndërtimi dhe operimi i autostradës së Baltikut është shembull i shkëlqyeshëm i bashkëpunimit regjional dhe i bashkëndarjes së infrastrukturës.
Autostrada Baltike është krijuar nga Data Logistics Center (pjesë e Lieuvas Energija, kompani shtetërore aksionare e furnizuesit Lituanez të energjisë), Latvenergo (kompani energjetike shtetërore e Letonisë), dhe Televork (subsidiar i firmës private energjetike Eesti Energia në Estoni). Për dallim nga të tjerët, ky rrjet është ndërtuar duke shtruar kabllon optike përgjatë linjave energjetike të tensionit të lartë dhe gypat e gazit të cilat i përkasin kompanive energjetike, e nuk janë përdorur segmentet e ndryshme të rrjeteve të operatorëve të telekomit të cilat janë të "arnuar së bashku". Tani klientët e Autostradës së Baltikut kanë mundësinë e shfrytëzimit të infrastrukturës regjionale pa nyje nga nj pikë e vetme.
In January, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania finished the five-year construction of the Baltic Highway – a broadband backbone network that takes advantage of fiber-optic assets from three Baltic energy and utility entities. The Highway is a seamless fiber backbone of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) across the Baltic region, connecting Northern Europe’s new mega-data centers in Tallinn to Western Europe's data hub in Frankfurt, Germany, with the possibility of extending connections to Russia and Belarus.
The construction and operation of the Baltic Highway is a great example of regional cooperation and infrastructure sharing — and there are many lessons we can learn from it.
The Baltic Highway was created by Data Logistics Center (part of Lietuvos Energija, a state-owned holding company of Lithuanian energy suppliers), Latvenergo (a state-owned electric utility company in Latvia) and Televõrk (a subsidiary of private energy firm Eesti Energia in Estonia). Unlike previous data highways, this network was built by laying optical fiber over high-voltage electricity lines and gas pipelines that belong to energy companies, as opposed to using different segments of telecommunications networks that have been “stitched together.” Today, Baltic Highway clients have the opportunity to utilize one seamless regional infrastructure system from a single point.
What would it take to implement a similar project in the Balkans?
For a week every year, Barcelona, Spain becomes the mobile capital of the world as thousands from around the world convene in the city for the Mobile World Congress (MWC). In 2014, 85,000 participants attended the MWC, including more than 1,800 exhibitors, 4,500 industry CEOs, 139 government delegations and 22 international institutions).
The World Bank is sending an information and communications technology (ICT) team, led by Senior Director Pierre Guislain. While there, we will immerse ourselves in the latest research, trends and conversations about mobile communications. Our activities, discussions and investigations are being led by our quest for “Broadband Access for All,” which is one of our Global Practice’s strategic areas – as well as the primary theme for this year’s MWC. We believe that connectivity equals opportunity, and are working with clients and countries around the world to close the digital divide.
We focus on technical assistance, infrastructure, partnerships and policy solutions to help ensure that broadband Internet is not only accessible, but also affordable for all. Our Senior Director’s speech and panel discussion at next week’s meetings is titled “Elements and Enablers of Mobile Affordability: What is required to achieve affordable access to mobile broadband for everyone?”
One of the MWC’s key elements, and one of particular interest to our ICT team, is the Ministerial Program. This is a forum for government and telecommunications regulators and representatives to debate current problems, learn from emerging trends and engage with international organizations and operators. We will be holding bilateral meetings with government ministers, industry stakeholders, potential donors and others to discuss real-life projects, ongoing challenges and solutions, and collaboration opportunities.