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Closing the digital divide amid Covid-19

Ranine Awwad

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Closing the digital divide amid Covid-19

People around the world do not have equal access to the internet. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, everything has shifted to the digital space. That’s why prioritizing work on closing the digital divide has never been more essential. A lack of internet connection means that students in rural areas are left behind and vulnerable groups of the population are at risk – having no access to online healthcare services.

For some, the lack of connectivity is attributed to the varying costs of broadband, which is quite expensive in certain locations. For others, access to the internet may depend on the decision-making of others. In India for example, internet shutdown has been occurring only in specific locations for months.

According to the OpenVault Broadband Insights report, the average broadband consumption by users has increased by 47% in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. At the start of 2020, OpenVault had projected that average consumption would reach 425 GB by the end of the year.

Access to the internet is a human right. Yet, nearly half (45%) of the world’s population remain unconnected. Not everyone has access to the same services or prices. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, 21.3 million Americans lack broadband access- having download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps.

In December 2019, the US House of Representatives passed the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (Broadband Data Act) which requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt new data collection rules and improve its broadband mapping strategy.

Late June 2020, two Republican members of Congress released a set of principles for future federal broadband legislation. They recommended the Federal Government to establish COVID-19 connectivity programs. On the other hand, the “Broadband Connectivity and Digital Equity Framework” from Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.- includes nine broadband policies that aim to help families and businesses survive the pandemic.

New legislation- the House Bill 969 “Broadband Internet Service- signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 9, authorizes certain funds within the State Transportation Trust Fund to be used for certain broadband infrastructure projects. To expand internet access, $5 million in annual spending was approved. The broadband policy oversight is now assigned to a new Florida Office of Broadband within the Department of Economic Opportunity after being under the responsibility of Management Services.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many telecom operators around the world have provided free broadband for their users. People who could not afford to pay, enjoyed free access to services. “The growth the telecom operators have been expecting over several years came just in a few months. However, the pandemic has shown the importance of prioritizing work to bridge the digital divide,” said Robin Mersh, CEO of open standards development organization Broadband Forum during Broadband Forum’s Q2 virtual meeting.

Ranine joined Inside Telecom as an Investigative Journalist. Her extensive fieldwork and investigations shed light on many socio-economic issues. Over the past few years, she has transformed her key findings into in-depth analytical reports. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communication.

Feature Articles

Operator network sharing in emerging markets

Karim Hussami

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network sharing

The telecom industry is always looking for ways to improve the quality of services offered to customers and support present and future connectivity needs by expanding network broadband, adopting new technologies and exploring new telco partnerships.

As such, network sharing is also gaining popularity in emerging markets as part of a sustainable strategy to boost overall connectivity services.

Latest trial with MTN Nigeria and 9Mobile

More specifically, this concept has been implemented in Nigeria where local operators have been encouraged, by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to conduct network sharing. The NCC granted MTN Nigeria and 9Mobile the approval for the trial of a national roaming service.

What are the benefits?

Services such as calls, text and data or access of other services will be made possible when traveling outside a particular coverage area by making use of the network of another operator.

“The successful implementation of the trial will enable EMTS subscribers to access MTN network service within the National Roaming trial geographical area without the need for an MTN Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card,” said NCC Executive Vice Chairman and CEO, Umar Garba Danbatta.

Moreover, the benefits of increased operator network sharing in Nigeria, will lead to operational expenditure optimization and capital expenditure efficiencies. It will also aim at freeing up resources to expand mobile network coverage to unserved and underserved communities and improved quality of service delivery to subscribers, as well as connecting remote parts of Nigeria.

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Feature Articles

SK Telecom to rollout blockchain-powered wallet with ministry approval

Yehia El Amine

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Blockchain

South Korean telecom giant, SK Telecom, has announced the rollout of its first e-wallet aimed at digitally storing and managing government-issued documents, gaining approval from the country’s Ministry of Public Administration.

According to SKT, the wallet will be powered by blockchain technology, and will be compatible with Government24’s digital initiative program, which promotes and encourages certificate issuance and distributions electronically as the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hits worldwide.

“Blockchain is a vital technology in today’s rapidly changing environment. There is a dire need for virtual interactions and innovative processes for streamlining certificates and other government-issued documents,” SK Telecom’s head of Blockchain & Certification Division, Oh Se-Hyun, was quoted as saying.

Citizens will be able to receive and send documents such as immigration certificates, resident registration card copies, health insurance qualifications, among others through a blockchain-powered mobile app.

The SK e-wallet will work cohesively with Government24 app seamlessly sharing documents from one to another, while also allowing documents to be shared with financial institutions, public entities, and private organizations in electronic form.

According to SKT, the wallet will support 13 different types of documents and certifications but will later increase to 100 types as the year ends.

According to numbers from Statista, almost one million South Koreans have discarded of their physical drivers’ licenses in favor of blockchain-powered digital alternatives used in conjunction with the PASS smartphone app.

“One million represents more than 3 percent of the entire driving population in South Korea, which sat at 32.6 million licensed drivers in 2019 alone,” the report from Statista highlighted.

In the past few years, South Korea has been spearheading countrywide digitization efforts especially with blockchain technology. Seongnam, the country’s second largest city, has already rolled out several digital payment programs, with plans to adopt more.

In parallel, beachgoers in Busan will be able to pay for services with Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH); while one of South Korea’s biggest banks KEB Hana Bank has partnered with the Korea Expressway Corporation to implement a blockchain-based toll system for the country’s highways.

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5G

Can 5G improve remote learning for all?

Karim Hussami

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remote learning

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of life including education; from the subsequent closure of educational institutions around the world to the rapid adoption of online learning.

However, the concept of students studying and learning online started before the spread of the virus with an annual study from the Learning House, a U.S.-based Edtech company, noting that, “the proportion of students studying and learning fully online has risen from under half to fully two-thirds.”

A fast internet connection is one of the main criteria for a successful remote learning experience, therefore, 5G will likely facilitate a more seamless learning experience for students across the world.

Benefits of 5G

Remote learning based on new technologies has convinced 80 percent of teachers that this new way empowers their teaching process, according to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s fourth annual Educator Confidence Report.

So how can 5G rollout help Edtech?

Facilitating learning through new techniques

Allowing students to tap into their imaginative and explorative qualities is an essential step for better learning experiences.

Thus, 5G will broaden the scope of technologies used while teaching students new curricula and learning material; for example, it will allow institutions to open availability for virtual and augmented reality with its low latency and peak download speeds, estimated to be as high as 20 gigabits-per-second.

“Virtual and augmented reality headsets will allow students to place themselves anywhere in the world and even within a story. These digital experiences will enliven current curricula and allow students to energize their imaginative and explorative qualities, which should be central to educational experiences,” Nicol Turner-Lee, Ph.D. and a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation said.

Closing distances with easy accessibility

While 5G offers faster data speeds and enhanced connectivity for many, it may not be accessible to students living in remote or secluded areas. Such a limitation may deepen the digital divide.

However, wireless devices are easier to put in place than traditional wired or fiber-based internet, making it a more practical solution.

Remote learning with 5G is an opportunity to help schools close the homework gap by boosting mobile learning.

“The advent of 5G on mobile devices can help close that gap as students can begin to use faster, more reliable mobile-based connections to complete an assignment, rather than a terrestrial connection,” says Erin Mote, Co-Founder of the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools and Education Technology expert.

Tech will help special needs students:

Our new educational normal will help students and children with special needs. 5G can help by enabling robots to be responsive with students, offering them good learning experiences, as well as being full-time assistants and supporting teachers by responding instantly to the needs of the student with learning exercises.

However, a big dilemma is presented here: children from high-income families are spending 30 percent more time on distance learning platforms than those from low-income families.

In parallel, 64 percent of secondary pupils in state schools from the wealthiest households are being offered online teaching from schools, compared with 47 percent from poorer families, according to a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

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