Digital connectivity just reached a major milestone when the number of connected mobile devices surpassed the number of people.
Why is this mobile milestone so important? Spencer Trask & Co. Chairman, Kevin Kimberlin, points out, “In the evolution of our wireless world, we’ll never again see such a crystal clear punctuation point for mobile progress!”
Kimberlin, among the initial funders of cellular pioneer Millicom Inc., says, “Don’t be fooled by this 100% crossover point. Since many of us have two or more devices, this active user number obscures a harsh reality. Over half of the people in the world are not so fortunate. They still don’t have a mobile phone. So we have more work to do.”
Connecting everyone will take the sweat and tears of entrepreneurs like those who built the global cellular infrastructure in place today. As one example, Kevin offers the story of Millicom Inc., the start-up selected by the FCC to demonstrate the feasibility of cellular.
At the origin of the mobile explosion, Millicom founder, Jan Stenbeck was sweating. His attorney, Len Gubar recalls those early days: “In 1981 – ’82, there was no money around. He was trying to raise money for this scheme to get into cellular. That’s when Kimberlin was involved.”
Stenbeck solved his problem with a sort of entrepreneurial genius — when he launched a joint venture called Racal-Millicom which won the cellular license for all of England. Renamed Vodafone, today this venture serves 434 million customers and is the second largest mobile communications company in the world.
“That’s the power of entrepreneurship. To connect everyone, we need more entrepreneurs like Stenbeck,” Kevin says.
Facebook demonstrates how this might be accomplished in its recent work with Millicom to bring mobile data to emerging countries. In one program, people in Paraguay can access Facebook through their handset, free of any data charges. Many are getting their first taste of mobile Internet with this offer. The partners hope that users will gradually upgrade from this free on-ramp to additional data services such as news, on-line health information, e-banking, mobile learning and the innumerable other benefits of a digital lifestyle.
Such mobile Internet access has enormous potential for good. For instance, studies by Deloitte indicate that an increase of 10 mobile phone users for every hundred people (in a developing country) can increase the GDP growth per capita by 0.8% to 1.2%. Elaborating on what this means, a separate Deloitte study forecasts that Internet access might raise 160 million people from poverty.
Kimberlin concludes, “Wouldn’t that be something to celebrate? So while we toast this mobile evolution milestone, let’s redouble our efforts to connect the rest of the world.”