Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt returned to the Mobile World Congress Tuesday to outline a future in which the digital divide of the connected and unconnected will be replaced by another divide defined by levels of connectivity – and potentially dominated by Google’s web platforms.
Schmidt said in an evening keynote that despite the majority of the world population with mobile phones, and the growing importance of mobile as a primary internet access device, only 2 billion of the planet’s 7 billion people are online.
“The digital revolution still hasn’t arrived for those 5 billion people who aren’t online, but that doesn’t mean we should be defeatist about that.
Schmidt said that as smartphone prices drop and connectivity becomes ubiquitous, a different divide will emerge, with the “ultraconnected” – the “lucky few” – at the leading edge, where bandwidth is plentiful, devices are affordable, everything is on the cloud and technology becomes as invisible as electricity is now. “It will just be there. The Web will be everything and at the same time nothing.”
In the middle ground will be “connected contributors”, a sort of technological middle class that will leverage mobile and IT technology in new ways, whether they become creators of new products, services and apps, or sophisticated consumers of them.
At the bottom end will be the “aspiring majority” – the other 5 billion, who in the next decade will have affordable smartphones and some level of network access, either via fiber, mobile broadband or even GPRS, as well as options such as Wi-Fi-powered mesh networks.