U.S. Takes Fourth in Global Network Economies

New report cites WiMax as a critical player in bypassing copper lines for rural connectivity. 

The U.S. ranks fourth among the world's networked economies, according a new report issued April 9 by the World Economic Forum. Denmark came in first in the seventh annual rankings, followed by Sweden and Switzerland.

While the study supports the longstanding numbers that the U.S. is still lagging behind a number of industrialized nations in broadband penetration (17th among 127 countries) and broadband speeds (19th), the report's main focus is a Networked Readiness Index. The metric factors in such variables as a country's business, regulatory and infrastructure in spurring innovation.

Since the 2007 report was released, the U.S. jumped from seventh to fourth in the overall rankings. The other top 10 countries include Singapore at fifth, followed by Finland, the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway.

Overall, the report singles out WiMax technologies as continuing to "leapfrog past copper wire" in developing countries, particularly noting the rollout of a WiMax network across 17 countries in Pakistan. Motorola and Wateen Telecom, a firm based in the United Arab Emigrates, developed the system.

The report also praises the WiMax deployment in India as a possible solution to the problems of rural connectivity, which has hampered the take-up rate in India. In early March, Tata Communications of India said it planned to install and deploy a WiMax network across 115 Indian cities within the next two years.

With a price tag of $100 million, the goal is to establish 20 million broadband connections. The Indian broadband market currently serves only 3.1 million customers in a nation with a population of more than 1.2 billion.

"In the context of having to apportion chunks of finite spectrum, WiMax is appealing because it holds the promise of increased sharing," the report states. "Rural connectivity is promised as long as power supply is available, PCs are given, local languages are used in developing content and people are provided with training in using PCs."

Insead, a French business, conducted the study for the World Economic Forum.