Beyond the Next Billion — origins

As this blog takes shape, I felt it was important not only to acknowledge new beginnings but also to explain the central theme and philosophy behind the blog. In nearly 20 years in the mobile communications industry, I have been privileged to witness several disruptive moments, from the early SMS networks that revolutionized (yes, hard to believe today) the way people communicated with each other to the early dawn of mobile data (WAP anyone?!) to today’s veritable cornucopia of apps and content. As fast as the technology world iterates and innovates, as fast as telecommunication networks evolve and connect people and things, as fast as these worlds converge, it always feels like there are new frontiers approaching. The Next Billion is one of those frontiers and an idea whose time is fast approaching.

While it is true that the phrase “next billion” increasingly means different things to different audiences, at its most basic interpretation, the phrase is used to describe new users accessing available infrastructure and services. In a nutshell, access to “public” resources and large scale networks. Access can be sought for the next billion urban residents, the next billion electricity connections, the next billion mobile connections, the next billion things connected, the next billion “active users” for an app and so on.

Why is the Next Billion important? Thematically, we believe that the next billion will define the shape of things to come in the 21st century. With so many additional “users” beginning to demand access to the available infrastructure, the current frameworks and models will simply not keep pace. There needs to be new thinking and approaches.

In the telecoms world, the next billion has been traditionally used in the context of bridging first the connectivity and more recently, the digital divide. In fact, it was frequently used to denote the billions of consumers who didn’t possess a mobile phone. Simple possession of a mobile phone is no longer a rarity but using that client device to access the Internet, apps and services remains outside the reach of many. These “next billion” Internet users have remained outside the pale, so to speak, challenged by limited cellular coverage, expensive mobile data plans and unaffordable client devices.

Fortunately, a spate of recent developments and emerging trends hold out the promise that these challenges will steadily be overcome and the next billion Internet users will come online to experience seamless, broadband connectivity to their favorite apps and content over affordable client devices. Soon, we will have new form factors and experiences to add to the mix with wearables, smart watches like the Apple Watch, smart assistants like Amazon’s Alexa mixing with new technologies like AR/VR, artificial intelligence and others to create new models of engagement with consumers and businesses.

The next billion will need access not just to a network, but rather a complex, manifold and evolving network, driven by globally defined standards and technological innovations. This blog will focus on the efforts and initiatives, already underway or in planning, that will help deliver reliable and scalable access to the Next Billion segment of users in Asia.