Digital Inclusion: Access Is Only the Beginning

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Why don’t more people who can get online get online?

The growth of broadband networking and the advent of technologies such as 5G networks and the Internet of Things (IoT) are delivering on the multiple promises of fast, secure, connectivity for people, places, and things. Yet not everyone with access to broadband uses broadband. Some reasons are obvious, but some are surprising.

The GSM Association (GSMA) is made up of more than 1,000 network operators worldwide. GSMA research finds that while 10 percent of the world’s population live in areas without broadband network access, 43 percent have access but don’t use it. Why not?

A frequently cited reason is the cost of smartphones. However, Huawei’s research with some of these broadband non-users unearthed some additional significant impediments.

  • 20 percent of the non-users of available broadband access said they do not know how to use the internet.
  • 20 percent said they do not know how to use a smartphone.
  • 32 percent said they are just not interested.

Even more curious, these same factors are seen as larger obstacles to getting more people online than the lack of network coverage or electricity. And these research findings are backed up by real-world experience. Several months after Huawei established broadband access in a location in Kenya, Africa, only 20 percent of users used it. The other 80 percent used only voice, text messaging, and mobile money services.

Advanced, secure digital networking enables advances ranging from on-demand, location-independent education to life-saving telemedicine. But so far, those advances have not yet convinced many with access to broadband connections to use or explore them.

What Gets People Online? Real-Life Benefits

Huawei believes it’s not enough to deliver solutions for advanced, affordable, secure digital connectivity. As engaged citizens of the places the company does business, Huawei people are committed to building on that connectivity to bring digital inclusion to as many as possible. And Huawei people are partnering with local activists, experts, and organizations around the world to achieve this goal.

  • In Bangladesh, Huawei and mobile network operator Robi Axiata have deployed six busses equipped with computers and internet access to train 50,000 women in digital skills since 2017. Building on the successful Bangladesh program, Huawei is partnering in Kenya with mobile network operator Safaricom, and a Belgium-based non-profit called Close the Gap to deliver DigiTruck. The vehicle is equipped with 20 laptops, internet access, and two trainers, and brings digital skills training to youth in remote areas. A second DigiTruck will also be deployed in Kenya before year’s end.
  • Huawei people are looking beyond connectivity to foster digital inclusion as well. In 2018, Huawei introduced StorySign, a free mobile app that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) technologies to help deaf children learn to read. The app helps to make printed books accessible to some 32 million deaf children worldwide.
  • Huawei people are also working to help the world’s 19 million visually impaired children. While half of all blindness is preventable, detection of childhood visual impairments requires the skills of pediatric ophthalmology specialists who are also expert at examining young, often pre-verbal children. The Track.AI project at Huawei aims to develop a simple, portable, affordable device that enables non-specialists to identify children with visual disorders as early as possible.
  • Huawei people are also using the company’s technologies to help preserve the planet. Rainforest Connection (RFCx) uses upcycled Huawei cell phones to protect rainforests from illegal logging. Old Huawei cell phones, connected to Huawei Cloud AI, listen to rainforest sounds and alert nearby rangers when unauthorized trucks or chainsaws are detected. Huawei is working with RFCx to extend these solutions to multiple rainforests, and to use them to track and protect endangered species as well.

The Ultimate Goal: Digital Inclusion for Everyone

These efforts are all part of a larger initiative across Huawei, known as TECH4ALL. The ambitious goal of this initiative is to help another 500 million people benefit from digital technology during the next five years. Huawei plans to do this by making digital technologies “warmer” – more relevant, accessible, and compelling to more people, so no person, home, or organization is left behind.

Huawei believes digital inclusion is essential to the successful evolution of healthcare, education, development, and environmental preservation. And the first step toward true digital inclusion is global, secure, modern, future-ready connectivity. Learn more at Huawei’s TECH4ALL web site. Then, follow us online, join the conversation, or suggest other ways we can help. Like those rainforest cell phones, we’re listening.

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Michael Dortch

Michael Dortch has more than four decades of information technology industry experience as an analyst, journalist, consultant, and marketer. He is currently a Senior Strategist for Huawei USA. In that role, he is focused on helping a world-class team tell more and better stories about how a world-class company helps world-class customers and partners connect and succeed.