The Global Telecommunications Revolution Has Social Implications

kids and mobile phoneDuring the past 20 years the telecommunications industry has undergone worldwide revolutionary changes. This is having and will continue to have profound social implications.

Excluding mobile phones there are now almost 1 billion devices connected to the Internet through mobile networks worldwide. These are things like alarm monitoring, electricity smart meters, public transport timetables and watches and glasses. By 2019 it’s forecast that there will be 10 billion devices connected to the Internet worldwide. In other words a ten-fold increase in the Internet of things.

Data speeds have increased significantly and will continue to increase. Data speeds on mobile networks have increased from around 0.1 Mbps in the mid-1990’s to 100 Mbps in 2014. On fixed line networks data speeds have increased from 10 Mbps in 2000 to just under 100 Mbps today. 5 Gbps speeds are predicted in a few years time.

Data volumes have also grown dramatically. The unit cost of data storage is declining. The annual cost of storage per Gb has declined from 101 eurocents in 2009 to 29 eurocents in 2014. In parallel the storage power of computers has grown exponentially. We are seeing the move to cloud computing and “always on” accessibility. Global monthly mobile video traffic is forecast to grow seven fold between 2012 and 2018.

As use of Internet connectivity and global delivery of service expands we are also seeing an increase in the importance of security in order to protect customer privacy and to prevent harm.

We are seeing significant changes in they way that education is delivered as schools utilise mobile devices as a tool for learning in collaborative ways.  In healthcare we see the adoption of text messaging to reduce non attendance at medical check ups and to reduce costs. Banking transactions are now completed online nationally and globally. Customers can keep track of their broadband and electricity usage online as they go – rather than having to wait until their monthly bill arrives in the mailbox. Billing itself is also now moving online as customers increasingly choose to receive their accounts by email rather than paper.

Governments in the 21st century will need to grapple with policy and regulatory challenges such as security, privacy, fair trade, employment conditions, the global movement of capital and the risks to the national tax base.

The question of how to apply enduring democratic principles such as equality of opportunity, free speech and respect for cultural and religious values will need to be addressed sooner rather than later as the technological tide sweeps in and as local sovereignty, cultural institutions and identities are threatened by globalisation. There are risks attached to a growing centralisation of power enabled by technological advances. Governments and non-governmental organisations have important roles to play in this debate. Ultimately it’s about choices. Those choices should be made consciously and proactively – rather than by default. We need to ensure that policies work for people – rather than people for policies.

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