More than 3 billion people around the world today are online, but hundreds of millions of them are only able to use the Internet via a mobile device such as a smartphone due to a lack of affordable local Internet access. While that's not terrible, it still means that they can't easily take advantage of many opportunities that Internet access via a desktop or laptop computer and a dedicated broadband connection can allow, such as educational research, advanced job searches and more.
That's one of the key conclusions of a new study, the 2015 Global Internet Report, released July 7 by The Internet Society, a nonprofit that is the organizational home of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The report, which is the group's second annual report on the global state of the Internet, focused this time on the impact of the mobile Internet, which the group says has fundamentally transformed Internet access and use and can help provide full and improved access to the world's next billion users.
Some 94 percent of the world's population is covered by a mobile network today, while some 48 percent are covered by mobile broadband and 28 percent subscribe to mobile Internet services, the report states.
One of the most intriguing conclusions of the study found that more than 80 percent of online time by mobile users is spent using apps and not a mobile browser, according to the report.
Michael Kende, the author of the report and chief economist for The Internet Society, told eWEEK that while it is great that more people around the world have access to the Internet using mobile devices, more needs to be done to help bring affordable broadband access to users on non-mobile devices, which can offer more opportunities.
"What truly worries me is that in many countries people only have access on mobile phones," said Kende. "You can't write a business plan on a mobile phone. We celebrate all the things these phones can do," but they can't offer all the capabilities that are needed by users in rural areas or in developing countries.
Kende said he was surprised by the report's conclusion that most people use apps and not browsers on their mobile phones, which is counter to how people often use desktop computers on the Internet.
"At the beginning I thought that people used apps because they were convenient," he said. Instead, he eventually learned that they use apps because it may be the only way to reach the APIs of the phone and offer native support, he said.
The report also shows that the discussion is changing globally when it comes to the digital divide and who does or does not have affordable and reliable Internet access in communities everywhere.
"The whole debate is changing because of the availability of mobile [access]," said Kende. "Availability is no longer a key issue, but affordability and relevance of use and content are."
Another conclusion of the report is that in most countries a significant number of people have access to Internet service but do not subscribe because of its cost. In many nations, the cost of mobile Internet service can amount to 5 to 10 percent of a person's annual income, making it a luxury that they can't afford, the report states. Another segment of the population, meanwhile, can access and afford the mobile Internet but don't yet have enough interest to begin using it.