The incoming head of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has told V3 that economic challenges present the biggest hurdle to the telecoms industry in its efforts to get the entire world online.
The ITU, a body of the United Nations, reported earlier this week that there are now three billion people online.
This is an impressive number, but it also means that around three billion are still without web access.
Speaking to V3 a month before he takes up the post of ITU secretary general, Houlin Zhao (pictured) said he will focus his tenure on ensuring that access to the web is made available to everyone, regardless of location.
“We know ICT greatly contributes to social and economic development, but at the moment it is not used equally so we have to introduce new services so that everybody can benefit,” he said.
Zhao explained that mobile broadband is “definitely” the solution, as it is far easier to roll out in remote areas.
“If you look at fixed broadband, connections are actually falling as mobile penetration increases,” he said.
Zhao noted how in some parts of Africa, for example, 4G connections are now commonplace as demand for mobile broadband in major cities rockets.
However, he admitted that economic questions about how operators can make services available in remote areas in a cost-effective way are a key concern.
“To invest in those [remote] areas does not bring much profit. So how can we make things profitable and sustainable?” he said.
“Competition is very tough, and this is good for the industry, but companies have to worry about how to attract customers, how to offer lower prices and how to invest in services to keep those customers.”
On top of these burdens, Zhao also questioned whether telecoms operators need more help from governments, as their contribution to the wider economy and global market place is currently overlooked.