Sometimes big problems get solved and we hardly recognize that has happened. Consider the problem of providing voice communications to all the people of the planet. Fifty years ago, that was a big problem, as “half the world’s people had never made a phone call.”
These days, the availability of networks supporting that use case is nearly ubiquitous. According to GSMA figures, voice access is virtually complete. “No network available” is rarely a barrier to communications usage.
Looking at mobile internet access, we are close to 100-percent coverage as well. Only about five percent of people cannot access the internet using a mobile network. Something in excess of 55 percent of people now connect to the internet using their mobile devices.
Less than 40 percent of people do not yet use the mobile internet. It still can be argued that mobile internet does not offer the speeds of fixed networks, and that the cost per bit on a mobile network is higher than on a fixed network.
Still, it remains true that for most people on earth, mobile networks are the way they use the internet. That trend has been in place for a decade or more. While home broadband subscriptions using fixed networks continue to grow slowly, mobile broadband is growing much faster. In 2021, mobile internet subscriptions outnumbered fixed connections almost seven to one.
So while there still are performance gaps between mobile and fixed networks, the “people cannot communicate or use the internet” problem that so perplexed policymakers fifty years ago now is largely solved. Performance and cost need to improve, and will keep improving. But “access” per se is no longer a major problem. Instead, the issue is the “quality” and “cost” of connecting.