According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, in Q3 2014, India added 18 million new mobile phone subscriptions and China 12 million. To put that in context, the whole of Western Europe only added three million new mobile subscriptions in that period.
This tells me that it's only a matter of time before the majority of people on the planet are connected to the Internet. Not all of these new subscriptions will be for smartphones, of course, but statistics indicate that 37 per cent of them are; plus, a mobile subscription is generally a precursor to a full smartphone subscription. In fact, the report predicts that by 2020, 90 per cent of the global population, regardless of age, will have a mobile phone - and that's a lot of people with smartphones too!
Now I can see some parents, or future parents, swivelling their eyes. Do we really want six-year-olds running round connected to a smartphone or begging mum and dad to up their data allowance? Probably not. But here's another way of looking at it: the more people who are connected to the Internet, especially in emerging economies, the better. The Internet and connectivity are the keys to economic growth, education, social and health care and rising living standards and this can only ever be a good thing in some of the world's poorest countries.
But if we are to ensure that everyone in the developing world who wants to get onto the Internet using a smartphone can do so, we're going to need a massive investment in infrastructure and a wholesale reassessment of what makes a great smartphone handset.
As I've written before, at the moment some of the big Western mobile and software brands are not entirely fit for purpose in the developing world. Users outside the main cities in, say, India, Africa and China are stuck with slow network speeds for the time being, and Western mobile apps require too much memory and processing power.
Feature-rich phones need an equally feature-rich network infrastructure to drive and optimise consumer experience and consequently engender brand loyalty. The explosion in smartphones will mean a corresponding explosion in the amount of data consumed. In fact, the Ericsson Mobility Report predicts that by 2020, mobile video, the biggest of all data eaters, will constitute 55 per cent of all mobile data traffic.
Even now, without the entire world population streaming films and video on their smartphones, this lack of infrastructure is a massive issue in emerging markets and it's why people are still using and continuing to buy 'normal' mobile phones rather than smartphones. In India, for example, cellular Next Generation Networks (NGN) which carry both voice and data are far from the norm, and Wi-Fi is increasingly plugging the gap, effectively taking up the slack of the huge data demand placed on cellular networks. Public Wi-Fi can, and will, continue to play a vital role as the infrastructure access layer, creating affordable (if not free) Internet connectivity that can power the experience and will boost the number of people willing to make the leap from a mobile phone to a smartphone in developing nations.
As more people come online, they will come to expect access to every service from one joined-up platform - from voice and broadband to Wi-Fi and streaming video. This is what I call 'my digital life', a unified network of mutually supportive digital services. It's the logical next step and that's why we're seeing company acquisitions and expansions in service offerings in the UK and abroad. What we're seeing now are the foundations being cemented in place so that within the next five years our digital lives will be taken care of all in one place. This is the race that's currently being played out within the industry - and once the race is won, the telecoms landscape will look very different indeed!Suggest a correction