Global Mobile

Over four billion people on earth now own a mobile phone, and in many parts of the world, mobile networks are leapfrogging the traditional landline infrastructure. It is our argument that the rapid, widespread adoption of simple, powerful handsets, combined with the spread of a high-speed mobile network has tied the globe into a single communications network, creating the foundation for a mobile revolution.

Global Mobile is a new program of NDN and the New Policy Institute that seeks to better understand how the global information and communications network is changing societies and improving lives around the world. We are dedicated to exploring the ways this network can create economic growth, improve public health, enhance education, change media, and strengthen democracies around the globe.

This new program builds on years of work by NDN on the role of technology in politics and the American way of life. For our latest work on this subject, keep up with the Global Mobile blog. Below are the highlights of our work in this space.


Information and Communication Technology in Mexican Civil Society 1/20/11: By Sam duPont This paper is an investigation into how Mexican civil society-- the civic organizations and social movements that exist separate from government and the private sector-- has employed network technologies to enhance and improve its work of creating positive social change

Connection Technologies in U.S. Foreign Policy 9/10/10: By Sam duPont This paper is an overview of the State Department's use of new technology in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, with a focus on the "21st Century Statecraft" and "Internet Freedom" initiatives.

Digital Diplomacy 8/3/10: By Sam duPont Writing in Foreign Policy, Sam duPont interprets the U.S. State Department's "21st Century Statecraft" initiative as a bold attempt to take advantage of the potential offered by new connection technologies.

Harnessing the Mobile Revolution 10/8/08: By Tom Kalil Tom Kalil, now Deputy Policy Director of Science and Technology at the White House, authored a paper for the New Policy Institute (an NDN affiliate) last year, analyzing the power of mobile to create economic growth, better public health, and stronger democracies in the developing world.

Tapping the Resources of America's Community Colleges 7/26/07: By Dr. Rob Shapiro This modest policy proposal by Dr. Rob Shapiro, Chair of NDN's Globalization Initiative, recommends offering free computer training for all American workers through the computer labs of our nation's community colleges. This proposal was adopted into legislation authored by House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson, and will likely become law in the near future.

A Laptop in Every Backpack 05/01/07: By Alec Ross and Simon Rosenberg Alec Ross, now Senior Adviser on Innovation to the Secretary of State, co-authored this paper with Simon Rosenberg, in which they argued that connectivity to the global information network has become an essential part of life in the 21st century, and called for a “A Laptop in Every Backpack” to prepare our children for this new world.


Public Diplomacy and Social Media in Latin America 3/29/11 NDN & NPI co-hosted a forum with SAIS to discuss how social media and other new technologies are affecting diplomacy, politics and governance in Latin America. Under Secretary of State Judith McHale delivered the keynote address.

Advancing Internet Freedom: Tackling Barriers to the Global Free Flow of Information 7/20/10 On July 20, 2010, Global Mobile, NDN, and the New Policy Institute hosted a conversation about practical approaches to internet freedom and the global free flow of information.

Freedom in the 21st Century: Connection Technologies in Open & Closed Societies 4/12/10 On Monday, April 12, Alec Ross, Senior Adviser on Innovation to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, will deliver a speech at NDN & the New Policy Institute on the role of connection technologies in open and closed societies.

Transparency, Accountability, Collaboration: Open Government in the U.S. and the U.K . 2/19/10 Global Mobile hosted  a lunchtime conversation about the changes the open government initiatives in the U.S. and the U.K. are ushering in with Andrew McLaughlin, Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House and James Crabtree, an editor at Prospect Magazine in Britain.

"Twitter, Iran, and More: Impressions from the Front Lines of the Global Media Revolution" 7/15/09: In this discussion of the role of Twitter in politics and media, we hosted Nico Pitney, the Huffington Post reporter who brought the voices of Iranian protesters out into the open, and Eric Jaye and Theo Yedinsky of Gavin Newsom's groundbreaking gubernatorial campaign in California.

New Policy Institute & NDN Help Promote Breakthrough Report on mHealth 6/26/09: NDN co-hosted the release of a new paper jointly published by the UN Foundation and the Vodaphone Foundation examining the potential for mobile technology to improve healthcare delivery in the developing world. Speaking at the event were Alec Ross, Tom Kalil, and former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth. Simon Rosenberg hosted the discussion.

Douglas Alexander on Conflict, Fragility, and International Development 4/27/09: British MP Douglas Alexander joined NDN at the Harvard Club of New York for a frank discussion of the role of local politics in international development. As Secretary of State for International Development, Alexander runs DFID, the British development agency, and he spoke on the relationship between conflict, fragility, and development, particularly in Afghanistan.


Global Mobile A look at how mobile technology is changing our world, and improving economic development, health, education, and every other part of societies around the world.

Tech@State: Mobile Remittances

On Monday at the State Department, I joined a couple hundred innovators, policymakers, entrepreneurs, and thinkers at Tech@State: Mobile Money, which explored mobile commerce and its applications throughout the world.

One of these emerging uses lies in the field of remittances, championed by Bill Barhydt, founder and CEO of m-Via -- the first international mobile remittances company based in the U.S. In a nutshell, his business allows users to send and receive micro-payments using their mobile phones, creating "mobile wallets" which allow recipients to decide where, when, and how much they withdraw.

M-Via has enjoyed remarkable success in its roll-out phases, with 15% week-on-week growth in participation and nearly four times as many remits compared to conventional snail-mail or branch-banking methods. And although m-Via currently operates with Mexico, Barhydt told us that the program will expand to sixteen more Latin American countries by the end of this year.

Three take-away words from yesterday's conference easily explain m-Via’s uncommon success: convenience, security, and interoperability.

Convenience: Barhydt’s company saves users valuable time and money. The conventional process -- primarily mailing cash or wiring via Western Union -- consumes too many resources for both parties, who must have a credit-worthy bank account, time to fill out paperwork or visit the post office, and money to cover associated fees and travel costs. m-Via eliminates these issues. Once an SMS transaction is sent, all receivers need to do is reply, enter a personal code, and visit one of the tens of thousands of partners, retailers, and compatible ATMs stationed throughout the country to withdraw funds from their mobile wallet.

Security: In one rural town Barhydt visited during his recent trip to Mexico, wise families won’t make the trip to the bank to pick up remittances on Tuesdays. Thieves know, he told us, that most families withdraw remittances on Tuesdays, making the trip a dangerous outing. Considering that migrant workers send larger amounts on fewer occasions to save money, families feel at-risk picking up and carrying large sums of cash. m-Via allows recipients to take shorter trips to withdrawal facilities and to only take out as much as they need, leaving the rest in their “mobile wallet.”

Interoperability: Where m-Via shows the most promise is in its infrastructural capacity to function with major interbank networks (that Cirrus or Interlink logo on the back of your bank card). In other words, m-Via isn’t trying to get users to switch banks, change carriers, or use certain ATMs; on the contrary, the goal is to make the service as widely available and accessible as possible.

Contrast this to mobile money in the Philippines, where remittances comprise 11%, or $15.8 billion, of the country’s GDP. In this space, Globe GCASH and Smart Money compete heavily for mobile money consumers, making them use each company’s proprietary financial system rather than focusing on compatibility (although it must be mentioned that the latter recently reached an agreement with MasterCard). These “low-interoperability, highly competitive landscapes”, said Barhydt, make the mobile money ecosystem fragmented and inefficient.

m-Via’s success is magnified in light of the daunting obstacles facing the mobile micro-payment marketplace. The first, Barhydt explained, is the congested and obsolete financial regulatory process which stifles a small 35-strong company such as m-Via and absorbs too many resources. Another more serious issue, raised by Obopay CEO Carol Realini, is the fierce opposition mobile money start-ups encounter by powerful and established mobile operators in foreign markets. Indeed, Barhydt echoed that América Móvil, Mexico’s largest mobile provider led by mega-billionaire Carlos Slim, has given m-Via a hard time getting a foothold in the marketplace.  

Despite these obstacles, m-Via’s business model seems to be working, primarily because he’s tapped into the relatively untapped market of mobile remittances -- a $300-billion-a-year industry involving nearly 200 million migrants worldwide. And since users can send and receive money without a bank account, the program provides a great option for the marginalized unbanked population. All said and done, m-Via joins a fleet of new companies set to prove how mobile technology, when done right, can be leveraged to the benefit of millions.

An Open-Source, Solar-Powered, Portable Mobile Network

A team of technologists have developed a portable, low-cost cellular network alternative, perfect for providing coverage to poorer, rural, and hard-to-reach areas where few established network providers dare go.

The OpenBTS project (BTS = Base Transceiver Station, and brace yourselves for several more acronyms coming up) allows users to construct an open-source, software-based network that can be installed and operated at one-tenth the cost of current technologies. This means that companies operating a BTS network could potentially turn a profit charging users only $2/month.

The (rather intimidating) technical details behind the OpenBTS project are described at length on their blog, but thankfully this review by Engineering For Change helps simplify the process:

At its core is open-source software that creates an interface for cellphones to connect to the network. The software is installed on a computer with a Linux operating system. An open-source device, called a Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP), plugs into the computer. Together, they create a signal that looks just like any signal for GSM phones... To complete the trick, the software plus the USRP hardware links to an open-source PBX called Asterisk. The PBX, a private bank exchange, is a server that acts like a switchboard to place calls.

As well as providing an alternative to conventional cellular networks, the OpenBTS network is highly portable, making it easy to bring connectivity to the most remote locations. OpenBTS’ rapid deployment kit is a transportable version of the technology which essentially amounts to  a mobile network in a box. As the project’s website explains, “Each box is a self-contained BTS unit, runs on a 12-16 VCD supply, [and] has a service radius of about 10 miles in rural conditions... Robust, simple, inexpensive.”

Once the equipment is set up, the network will show up on the screen of any GSM mobile phone within range of the transceiver (GSM is the most widely adopted cellphone standard in the world). If the laptop is connected to the Internet, the network expands to the broader communications network through VoIP (Voice Over IP).

Because of its portability and GSM compatibility, the BTS network could revolutionize mobile phone usage in rural or distant areas deemed too inaccessible by conventional carriers. And it’s got a huge financial edge, as well. The entire network, including building an optional base antenna to widen the network (shown at left), costs roughly $20,000, compared to the $200,000 a conventional phone company would need to invest in an off-the-grid network. And since it’s powered by solar panels, OpenBTS saves thousands of dollars in transporting, operating, and guarding diesel, according to co-founder David Burgess.

Through years of development, the network has been field-tested a number of times. Burgess and his team tested OpenBTS in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert at Burning Man (an area with very little coverage), and also at the entirely un-networked Polynesian island of Niue. Most notably, the BTS system was picked up by Orange and Ericsson, who in 2009 announced plans to install 100 base stations in rural Africa.

Despite its successes in the field, OpenBTS faces a few very real obstacles -- fixing software bugs, meeting network regulations and standards, addressing security and encryption issues, and ensuring a reliable signal, to name a few (at Burning Man 2008, voice communications clogged the network and forced the team to transmit only SMS messages). Fortunately, the entire set-up runs on open-source software and hardware, meaning that entrepreneurs and technicians around the world can work together to build a stronger BTS network.

As astonishing numbers regarding global mobile subscriptions and handset sales continue to grow, it’s important to remember that the devices themselves are only as powerful as the network in which they operate. OpenBTS provides this gateway to connectivity in the rural areas which need it most -- hard-to-reach places where BTS-enabled mobile communication could improve health, education, finances, and citizenship.

This Week in Global Mobile | July 30, 2010

At times its difficult to keep pace with all the latest global mobile developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the ever-growing global network of connectivity:

  • Chinese Internet users rose 10% to 420 million in the last six months alone, with 278.6 million of them using mobile handsets to access the Internet, according to a Chinese report.
  • On Monday the FCC and FDA signed a landmark agreement to promote innovation in wireless medical devices. Read our coverage of the event here.
  • BusinessWeek reports that the global mobile commerce industry is expected to grow from $23bn in 2010 to over $100bn in 2015.
  • Google announced Apps for Government, the first cloud application suite to be certified for and adopted by the government.
  • A trial session of Worldreader in Ghana demonstrated that providing Kindle readers to Africans improved literacy rates in the region.
  • A Russian court ordered an ISP to ban YouTube after what was judged to be an extremist video was hosted on the site, while in Lebanon four men were arrested for “insulting the president on Facebook.”
  • The Rwandan government is handing out mobile phones to volunteer health care workers who are dispatched to various villages to register and monitor expectant mothers.
  • The Mayo Clinic just opened its Center for Social Media, a “first-of-its-kind social media center focused on health care.”
  • Following up on his TED Talk on the subject, Ethan Zuckerman looks at how Facebook usage proves his theory that, contrary to public perception, the Internet doesn’t really cause users to reach out of their “social bubbles.”
  • UAE authorities arrested BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) users for organization a protest against high gas prices using their mobile phones.
  • The Apps4Army contest challenged U.S. soldiers to design mobile apps for the military. Yesterday the winners were announced, as well as this statistic: This crowdsourced process cut development time down from one year to 90 days.
  • Vodafone is bringing a solar-powered mobile phone to India which runs eight days on standby following an 8-hour charge in the sunlight.

FCC and FDA Bring Wireless Devices to the Forefront

At a public meeting at FCC's headquarters on Monday, Chairman Julius Genachowski and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg announced a landmark agreement to start a substantive conversation about the role of wireless communications in health care. With U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra presiding, the two leaders signed a Memorandum of Understanding and a Joint Statement of Principles highlighting the importance of nurturing mobile health innovation.

In his opening remarks, Genachowski summarized:

"All Americans stand to benefit from broadband-enabled wireless health solutions... Today's action will promote investment and innovation in health technologies, help realize potential cost savings, and deliver real health benefits to the American people."

Following the introductory comments, representatives from the health care industry, wireless technology groups, relevant agencies, and other stakeholderes gathered in a series of panels to share their perspectives on wireless health. Throughout the day, two conclusions were made clear:

1. Wireless and mobile health technologies will profoundly impact every corner of the health care industry:

In the nearby exhibitors' rooms, 25 mHealth innovators displayed an impressive showcase of wireless health technologies. Watch the FCC and FDA leaders tour the exhibits below (or on YouTube here):



Most of these exhibits demonstrated how mobile wireless technologies can improve patient monitoring and communication -- devices which monitor glucose levels 24/7 and send SMS warnings to diabetic patients, for example. But as Drexel University biomedical engineer Elliot Sloane explained, implementing wireless technology into health care will have far-reaching effects on the entire ecoystem.

For example, social networks could be incorporated into hospitals and nursing homes, allowing "P2P" -- patient-to-patient -- communication. Wireless entertainment systems in health care facilities could enhance the patient and family experience. On-call doctors would be more readily available if they could conduct procedures wirelessly from their homes. And the wireless transmission of patient information between and within hospitals would bring efficiency and transparency to an oudated system. No area of health care stands to lose from this technology.

2. Still, the vast potential of this emerging space is matched by the numerous challenges confronting it:

Panelists representing the wireless health industry expressed several challenges facing wireless and mobile health technologies. By far the biggest concern was mentioned by DexCom's CTO Jorge Valdes, who said that FCC and FDA regulation needs to be more "flexible and intelligent." Too often, he continued, the rate of mobile innovation exceeds the time consumed by the approval process of the FDA and FCC. By the time a wireless monitoring device is finally approved, the mobile phone for which it was made is already discontinued or obsolete. Additionally, regulations regarding spectrum allocations to the wireless health community need to be reviewed often in order to ensure network interoperability and international function.

Another concern among the panelists was what Intel's Bonnie Norman called "the human factor." It is critically important that these new wireless innovations conform to the patients' lifestyles, not vice-versa. Devices can't be cumbersome of finnicky. They must have "mobility and adaptability" in order to accommodate the lifestyles of athletes, young veterans, and students. The challenge is particularly salient among young patients, echoed another panelist, who "fully expect their solution to integrate completely with their smart phone. They don't want to carry around another device."

The final issue worth mentioning was again raised by Bonnie Norman. IT and network infrastructure must be able to reliably and securely keep up to pace with wireless health solutions. It's one thing to experience the occasional dropped call on your iPhone, she said, but when your mother's life is on the line, you can't afford for her device's emergency signal to be lost by the network. And the IT systems in the health care industry must be able to synthesize and make accessible the "tsunami of data" which flow from full-time wireless monitoring and communications.

It's clear to me, as it was to the panelists, that a conversation about wireless health technologies is long-overdue. The new FCC-FDA partnership should pave the way for a new era of wireless health innovation, making good on Dr. Hamburg's declaration that "the convergence of communications technology and medical technology could change the face of medicine forever."

This Week in Global Mobile | July 23, 2010

At times its difficult to keep pace with all the latest global mobile developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the ever-growing global network of connectivity:

  • On Tuesday Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) released a draft [PDF] of his digital consumer privacy bill, called the Best Practices Act. Meanwhile, Senator John Rockerfeller (D-WV) announced plans to introduce a Wireless Innovation Act, which moves forward the FCC’s plan to auction off spectrum.
  • A Jordanian student was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment over an Instant Message to a friend which “insulted the supreme entities” of the country.
  • MobileActive takes a look at whether content producers should be swinging towards mobile apps or the mobile Web in this article.
  • A new report by Pyramid Research indicates that broadband users in Africa will increase from 40 million in 2009 to 92 million in 2015, bringing penetration from 3.2% to 6.8%.
  • Check out this Washington Post editorial which praises the State Department’s steps to foster Internet Freedom as part of its diplomatic strategy.
  • To circumvent Vietnam’s Facebook ban, the Vietnam Reform Party has uploaded to its website directions to access Facebook through Google.
  • In a week when BCC and CNN International made splashes for introducing apps to the iPhone and iPad, Juniper Research released a study estimating that 25 billion mobile applications will be downloaded by 2015, compared to 2.6 billion in 2009.
  • The Wall Street Journal blogs about the growing role of mobile phones in delivering aid to Africa.
  • Over the weekend, thousands of Turks marched in Istanbul to protest Law Number 5651, which provides the basic infrastructure for the government’s Internet censorship policy.
  • Don’t miss tech guru Ethan Zuckerman’s review of the proceedings at e-Nigeria, an ICT symposium which took place earlier this week.
  • The government of China announced its intentions to deanonymize certain areas of the Internet, further buffering its “Great Firewall.”

The Global University Campus

On Wednesday I attended the 2010 IGF-USA conference at the Georgetown Law Center. In this second annual U.S. edition of the Internet Governance Forum, a couple hundred Web citizens, industry folk, and government representatives gathered to share their perspectives on the current state of the Internet and the visions they hold for the future of the global Web. I’ll blog later about a great discussion which took place regarding user education of cyber-crime, but for now I’m going to focus on the stand-out speech of the event:

Pablo Molina, a graduate professor in technology management at Georgetown University, kicked off the day with a terrific lecture discussing how the Internet has transformed university education. As a professor and the university’s chief information officer, he described how the 21st-century classroom has shifted focus from the blackboard to the laptop:

Colleges and universities react to globalization by engaging in international initiatives. We import students and faculty from other parts of the world to our home campuses. We open campuses in other countries. We engage in distance learning. Information and communication technologies and the Internet are critical to support our academic mission... You will not find [university students] in classrooms taking notes while somebody scribbles on a blackboard. Instead, you will find them hanging out around online lectures, social networks, and digital libraries.

The digital transformation has arrived, at least in many colleges in the United States. To paraphrase Molina: “Today, the university with the largest student body in the U.S. has over 200,000 full-time equivalent students. Its name: University of Phoenix Online.” He adds that twenty percent of college students in the country are taking a course online. As a current university student, I’d estimate that at least 85% of my course readings are only available via the Web, and I can’t remember the last time my professor didn’t e-mail important information to students at least once during the course.

But the age of the “global university campus,” as Professor Molina called it, clearly has world-wide reach beyond America’s borders. Traditional universities such as Georgetown have entered the digital age (which is saying a lot, I might add - I’m a student there, and we didn’t have Internet access in our campus library until last year), remotely connecting international students from campuses in Washington to London and Qatar with web conferences and video chats. And while the Icelandic volcano eruption brought an entire continent to a standstill, says Professor Molina, it still couldn’t stop his international students from sitting in on lectures via Skype.

In emerging nations, university Web education is slowly taking a foothold. Just a few weeks ago, the University of Nairobi launched its tech-savvy Open Distance and E-Learning Center, which provides high-speed Web access and infrastructural support to the new African Virtual University. The facility gives students and administrators the opportunity to connect with courses, curricula, and students of other universities to share information.

Last year I saw first-hand the gradual integration of the Internet into the classroom when I studied at the University of Buenos Aires, South America’s largest university. For the first time in one of my course’s thirty-year history, the class documents were published online, saving valuable time and money for the numerous students attending from provinces across the country. In an aging, overcrowded, underfunded, and poorly managed university system of over 300,000 students, witnessing the Internet being adopted into curriculum was truly a remarkable sight.

Internet access is developing into a critical part of the university nervous system around the world. But Professor Molina reminds us of the dangers this transition may introduce. As Internet access becomes a prerequisite to learning, the effect of the digital divide could be magnified, which is why Molina made a clear call for advocating for an open, free, and secure Web:

To pursue our academic mission, to close the digital divide, and to bring education to all, we dream about an affordable, reliable, pervasive Internet that citizens worldwide can access... We dream about a strong privacy and information security framework to protect academic freedom and to fuel academic discourse.

In places where Internet access isn’t as readily available, mobile phones are filling the void to help close the digital divide and bring the power of digital education to the developing world. In South Africa, Nokia has teamed up with MXit, a free mobile social networking platform, to connect struggling math students with their school district for access to tutoring and curricula. The project has grown from fewer than 300 to  3,000 “eLearners” and is expanding to two more provinces in South Africa. In Australia, scientists have developed a reliable mobile-to-mobile communication technology which could allow distance learners to share articles, homework, and test questions with each other in areas with weak or no signal.

Initiatives such as these are terrific showcases of mobile education, but they also reveal the long road ahead for mobile phones in university learning. The ability of computer-based Internet access to bring multimedia presentations, scholarly articles, and other academic resources to students makes clear the large strides mobile phones must make before they can realistically be implemented in a digital university setting.

Listening to Molina speak at IGF-USA, it was easy to imagine the myriad ways the Internet and new technologies can improve education. The hard part, however, is ensuring that the Web is accessible to the citizens of developing countries who have the most to gain from these powerful tools -- and the most to lose from missing out.

This Week in Global Mobile | July 16, 2010

At times its difficult to keep pace with all the latest global mobile developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the ever-growing global network of connectivity:

  • To combat cyber bullying, Facebook introduced a “Panic Button” available on all youth’s accounts which will connect teens with resources hosted by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.
  • Australian researchers exploring mobile-to-mobile technology have developed software which reliably allows handheld devices to communicate with each other in areas without reception.
  • On Tuesday China verified that it had renewed Google’s license to operate its search engine in the country with a link available to forward visitors to Hong Kong’s unfiltered site.
  • Throughout the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Univision and ESPN streamed nearly 26 million hours of live online video. See more incredible digital world cup stats at our blog post here.
  • India mobile giant Bharti, the fifth-largest telecom company, announced a $150 million investment in the Keynan mobile network market.
  • The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled an unfair trial after a juror was found to be MySpace friends with the defendant. In its ruling, the Court called for a re-writing of current rules to accommodate 21st-century media.
  • TED and Nokia announced a partnership to pre-load TED Talks on new Nokia N8 phones sold in Africa.
  • Yesterday the FCC voted to push forward a proposal for a $400 million rural health care broadband fund, while IBM announced a $100 million health care initiative to develop new broadband technologies and processes for providers.
  • Kenya launched a free SMS alert system to monitor hate speech ahead of the August 4 constitutional referendum vote.
  • Kerala’s state government is set to give 60,000 teachers an 8GB DVD containing e-versions of all Year 8 and 9 school texts as well as a host of multimedia, user training, and presentation software.
  • Today the East Africa Submarine System (EASSY) goes live, bringing 1.5Tb of additional capacity as the first east coast system to connect traffic directly to Europe.
  • Google CEO Eric Schmidt has a growing sphere of political influence in the D.C. landscape. Read Politico's review of this unique and increasingly important relationship here.
  • Freedom House called for a major international response after the Chinese government abruptly shut down over sixty blogs this week in its latest bid to stem the growing tide of social networking.
  • Don’t miss today’s NY Times Magazine article about digital diplomacy featuring Jared Cohen and Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary Clinton.

The Digital World Cup - By the Numbers

World Cup on Mobile Phone

A couple weeks ago, Sam blogged about the global reach of the World Cup, thanks in no small part to the rapid innovation of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Now that the competition is over, a look back shows what a powerful and record-setting role global tech played during the World Cup. I’ll let the numbers do the talking:


Internet Traffic

Internet Video

Social Media

Mobile Technology

The numbers alone are incredible, but even more remarkable is the emerging landscape of global technology they reveal. This past month, people around the world accessed and shared digital information in ways and magnitudes we wouldn’t have thought possible during the previous World Cup. Thanks to the ever-growing global network of digital connectivity, I can’t decide which I’m looking forward to most at Brazil 2014: the month-long fiesta of fútbol or the innovative technology we’ll be using to engage with it.

Throughout the next couple week's I'll be updating this post with new numbers as they come in, so keep checking back for the latest incredible digital World Cup stats!

Five Billion Mobile Subscriptions in Five Months' Time

According to a recent study by ABI Research, we’ll surpass five billion mobile subscriptions by the end of 2010.

The report also shows that that mobile growth is fastest in the developing world. Africa, for example, remains the fastest-growing adopter of subscriptions with a year-on-year growth of 22%. Asia-Pacific’s mobile penetration will reach two-thirds by the end of the year, up from 23% in 2005, with Indian and Indonesia gaining 150 million subscriptions in the past four quarters.

As much as we'd like it to, this doesn't necessarily mean that five billion people will own phones by the end of the year. Most professionals in major developed cities carry multiple subscriptions and phones (Blackberry at work, iPhone at home). Also, in the developing world it's not uncommon to own multiple SIM card subscriptions because of network reliability issues. Based on mobile penetration rates, phone sales, and subscriptions, it's safe to assume that about one billion people carry multiple subscriptions or phones, so we can still expect about four of the seven billion people in the world to own a mobile phone by the end of the year.

These remarkable statistics inspire a virtuous cycle of investment, innovation, and even more adoption, driving mobile operating companies to create new services. With global mobile revenue expected to hit $1 trillion by 2013, there is a huge market aching to be explored by phone manufacturers and service providers. In Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, Nokia’s is selling more phones, cheaper, than ever before. In 2008 and 2009 alone, over 418 million handsets were sold globally, and this number is rising significantly on a quarterly basis. The demand for mobile Internet is also increasing world-wide; more than fifteen operators in Africa have announced plans to introduce 3G data services in the region.

Spurred by these incredible mobile adoption rates, mobile operators continue to explore the market, investing in mobile Internet, innovation, and infrastructure. Which means that in just five month’s time, nearly 60% of the world's population will be plugged in to our global network of connectivity, putting mobile health, commerce, and education into the pockets of billions.

This Week in Global Mobile | July 9, 2010

At times it's difficult to keep pace with all the latest global mobile tech developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the ever-growing global network of connectivity:

  • Yesterday the White House announced the second annual SAVE award. The crowdsourcing program asks government employees to submit ideas that would reduce costs in their departments, and fellow workers vote for favorites via IdeaScale.
  • Twitter now runs over 800 million search queries daily, making it the the world’s second-largest search engine with more monthly hits than Bing and Yahoo combined.
  • An Internet rights group launched a legal challenge in Turkey over a ban on access to a host of Google-owned sites, calling the ban “an infringement on our fundamental human rights, the freedom of conversations and our right to information.”
  • Pew released a landmark study on mobile technology use in America. Among the remarkable statistics: mobile Internet access increased 8% last year alone, with young blacks and Hispanics accessing mobile web more than any other demographic.
  • Today China renewed Google’s license to operate in the country, possibly under a compromise in which will post a link to the Hong Kong site rather than automatically redirecting to
  • The popular blog publishing tool WordPress introduced Post By Voice, a program which allows users to speak their blog posts through the phone to be transcribed and posted online. This could transform the way activists and reporters in the field blog.
  • First-time politician Yukiko Tokai wants voters to know her name before Sunday’s parliamentary elections, but Japan’s straitjacket campaign laws forbid her to knock on doors, update her Web site, or advertise on television. Read the entire story here.
  • A new regulation by China’s PLA prohibits soldiers from online dating, social networking, or blogging.
  • MobiTV streamed 88 million minutes of World Cup soccer to mobile phones - that’s 61,111 consecutive days of the Beautiful Game. To put it in perspective, the company streamed 2 billion minutes of TV in all of 2009.
  • Fred Hiatt and Anne Applebaum published stories in the Post about the current state of democracies and autocracies around the world, mentioning how some repressive regimes “have become adept at using the rhetoric of democracy” to further their authoritarian influence. Check out our blog post for more.
  • Venezuelan authorities arrested two people for spreading false rumors on Twitter aimed at destabilizing the country’s banking system.
  • Following a Skype discussion with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, UK Prime Minister Cameron and his government announced phase two of the Spending Challenge. The initiative asks the public to vote on over 60,000 of their own policy proposals for spending cuts.
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