Tackling a deepening digital divide

Tackling a deepening digital divide

While the advent of exciting technologies – enabling new experiences and new ways of connecting across the globe – is undoubtedly something to look forward to, the priority must be ensuring everyone can experience them. Gil Rosen, Amdocs CMO, shares his perspective.

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Gil Rosen, CMO


04 Jan 2024

Tackling a deepening digital divide

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The digital age has transformed nearly every facet of our lives: our homes are now brimming with connected devices and AI language models are transforming the way we live, work, and communicate.

In an ideal world, this revolution would transform the lives of all, but access to it hinges on the presence of next-gen resources, which are not at all distributed equally – resulting in the digital divide.

The digital divide is perhaps a catch-all term for the disparity in distribution, most commonly geographically but also economically, of technology in all its forms. We commonly approach the topic as it pertains to connectivity, swathes of dark spots, even across nations like the UK, betray uneven investment, and exacerbate pre-existing inequalities.

Even as connectivity infrastructure improves, it won’t at the pace that households increase their reliance, and therefore strain, on the networks. Research from Amdocs shows that connected devices in the home requiring a constant connection are booming. Households with more than nine connected devices have increased by 50% since 2021 . This is predicted to increase further, with the global IT market more than doubling by 2027 . New technologies which will require faster and more reliable connectivity than ever before, such as the metaverse, cloud gaming, and mixed reality, will inevitably widen the gap as access alone will not be enough. Instead, access with the speed, quality and security to run these next-gen applications will be required.

A growing divide

A tool with the potential to create a new, deeper digital disparity has recently emerged on an international scale: AI-based Large Language Models. Those including OpenAI’s ChatGPT, as well as text-to-image models like Dall-E and Stable Diffusion, are causing shockwaves across every facet of our lives. For example, ChatGPT became the fastest-growing consumer internet app ever after surpassing 100 million users just two months after launching earlier this year.

The WEF has predicted that AI will contribute to 83 million job cuts over the next five years, as McKinsey reports that Generative AI could automate between 60-70% of employee workloads. The savior will be that AI also opens new doors to us as employees and consumers, but only if people can access both the tools themselves and education on how to use them to their advantage.

We’ve unfortunately reached a crossroads between technological innovation and access to the tools that are being created. This has resulted in Amdocs’ finding that 61% of consumers believe the advent of new digital experiences like AI, AR, and the metaverse will deepen the digital divide. It’s therefore vital that Communication Service Providers (CSPs) see themselves as part of the “inclusion equation” and do what they can to facilitate quality access to communication enablers that are at the foundation of access.

Using the past to prepare for the future

Over the past few years, we’ve experienced an unprecedented and unexpected upheaval in how and why we need to be connected to the internet. Remote work and remote education were new for many, and we saw the consequences of this. The UK government has reported that some 559,000 students were living in households without internet access at the beginning of the pandemic, representing about 7% of the UK’s under-19 population. Insufficient access also played a part in a precipitous decline in academic achievement, with A-level students underperforming compared to their pre-pandemic counterparts. Furthermore, some 14% of apprentices could not complete their studies.

"Over the past few years, we’ve experienced an unprecedented and unexpected upheaval in how and why we need to be connected to the internet."

While the worst is over, and students have returned to schools and staff to offices, connectivity has not become any less important. Children still need to connect to do homework and, increasingly, socialize with their friends, and remote work is here to stay. It’s therefore inevitable that those without reliable connectivity will be on the back foot, with access to fewer opportunities, experiences, creativity, and education.

Bridging the digital divide is a collective endeavor, requiring the collaborative efforts of every stakeholder in the digital ecosystem. Governments, CSPs, device manufacturers, and software developers must unite to enhance both reliability and accessibility. For example, integrating connectivity into sectors like health, education, agriculture, sports, and local governance can narrow this divide. Furthermore, private networks offered by businesses or local government bodies can cater to specific needs, ensuring efficient connections in areas that are either underserved or lack adequate connectivity speeds.

The keepers of the connectivity

While closing the digital divide should be a joint effort, CSPs have a significant role to play as the keepers of the key when it comes to connectivity. Ensuring that every individual has equal access to connectivity and its associated technologies requires CSPs to build robust, all-encompassing network infrastructures . With various wireless solutions available today, each has its unique strengths and drawbacks. For example, while WiFi offers widespread accessibility, it struggles with congestion and latency when many devices connect. Traditional wireless networks often vary in consistency based on location, and while satellite broadband holds promise, it’s still in its infancy.

To truly offer ubiquitous connectivity, CSPs must act as network aggregators, integrating and managing diverse networks to allow consumers to transition seamlessly between them. As primary connections might falter, having automatic backup options is crucial for uninterrupted access. This complex orchestration will greatly benefit from the capabilities of AI and advanced network governance, ensuring optimal performance and user experience.

Furthermore, CSPs must be able to act quickly and adapt easily as new technologies evolve with heightened network demands. The development and deployment of 5G SA networks will be vital for this as they enable flexibility and more seamless coverage, giving everyone an equal opportunity to receive an unrivalled digital service and amazing experiences.

Accessibility for all

While the advent of exciting technologies – enabling new experiences and new ways of connecting across the globe – is undoubtedly something to look forward to, the priority must be ensuring everyone can experience them. Collaboration, by all stakeholders, will be the key to this, with Amdocs’ research finding that 84% of consumers consider the internet a necessity akin to running water and electricity, and the pandemic proving that connectivity is essential to our lives.

There is a lot to be done to close the digital divide, from establishing standalone networks and implementing satellite connectivity to expanding network aggregation and creating flexible pricing models – but technology aside, it is even more important to make sure that everyone is coming along for the amazing ride.

This article first appeared in VanillaPlus

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