As the world gets wired, businesses – particularly those in information and communications technology – will boom. In fact, networking specialist Cisco predicts that this year some 1000 billion devices will be connected to the internet. “The internet is no longer just an information superhighway; it is a platform,” says Cisco's chief technology officer, Padma Warrior.
IT research firm Gartner reports that worldwide sales of mobile phones to end-users hit 428 million units in the third quarter of 2012, with smartphone sales accounting for 40% of the sales. Connectedness, it seems, is everything.
Free for all
Take Chelsea, a neighbourhood in Manhattan, New York. It may not be a high-tech hotbed yet, but Google hopes to change that by installing New York City’s biggest contiguous free pubic wi-fi network in the neighbourhood. Google chose Chelsea for this project because it is where the company's New York headquarters are located, but the wi-fi network will also benefit other businesses in the area and have widespread economic implications for the city.
Google is introducing a similar scheme in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. Competition among possible locations for the scheme was fierce, with more than 1100 communities applying to Google to be chosen as the site for this experimental high-speed network. One city even renamed itself Google for a day. Google sought a city where it could "build efficiently; make an impact on the community, and develop relationships with local government and community organisations," according to a statement from the company.
Seeing national benefits, the UK government is taking an aggressive approach to broadband connectivity by establishing the goal of creating a 'digital hub' in every community in the country. It is part of an £830m ($1.3bn) strategy introduced by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills in December 2010, to ensure that the UK has the best super-fast broadband network in Europe by 2015.
Consequently, in October 2012 a London-based fibre internet service provider, Hyperoptic, announced plans to extend its fibre-to-the-premises network to provide one gigabit broadband to half-a-million UK homes in the next five years.
South Africa has also established a nationwide policy aimed at establishing universal access to broadband services by 2019. Achieving this goal, however, is difficult given the lack of infrastructure development in rural areas in the country.
Late last year, Fibreco – a joint venture between South African cellular operator Cell C, hosting, remote and service provider Internet Solutions and a consortium of investors from Convergence Partners – began digging a national fibre network in the country to roll out a long-distance network that will expand from East London to Cape Town and from East London to Durban. Fibreco aims to control a countrywide, open-access, fibre-optic network of more than 12,000 kilometres.
Meanwhile, Durban’s eThekwini municipality has been installing a city-wide fibre-optic network since 2008, to launch its MetroConnect service, an initiative aimed at selling the excess capacity on its network to internet service providers at a wholesale price.
In the clouds
Such efforts are critical as they open up opportunities for cloud computing, where shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility over a network such as the internet.
"Cloud computing is the most important sustainable revenue opportunity for carriers since voice," says Manuel Gallo, director of business development for NEC's Europe, the Middle East and Africa Carrier Cloud Competence Centre.
Cloud computing will open up the need for further national and global policies such as those governing cyber crime. Japan is currently one of the only countries that already has a comprehensive suite of modern laws that support and facilitate the digital economy and cloud computing, according to the Business Software Alliance in Washington, DC.