I have been toying around a bit with some statistics on Asia’s rate of internet users as percentage of the population vs. mobile penetration (as percentage of the population) using Google’s Public Data Explorer (I am anxious to use Wolfram Alpha’s Pro option for a few months to see if I can improve upon these). For the more economically advanced nations among them (Korea, Japan, Malaysia inching upwards-where is the Taiwanese data?), one sees a general uptick in internet users as percentage of the population over a course of the last ten years. That all makes sense as these nations have invested singificantly in bandwidth and infrastructure over the last decade.
For those less economically advanced (and these statistics indicate to me that China and Vietnam will soon be in that Korea and Japan stratosphere), we see a general, very limited increase in internet users as percentage of the population. Some uptick but Mongolia, Indonesia and Nepal have almost flatlined, which indicates to me that perhaps funding for ICT infrastructure and development has lost momentum. If I were to view this solely as an index measure for potential development, I would be concerned.
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However, once I measure these internet penetration rates against the mobile subscription rates (per 100 people), I am less concerned, especially for many of these same nations (Mongolia=82.94, Nepal=25.88, and Indonesia=67.08). We see significant (almost complete) saturation of the populace with mobile technology in some instances. Further, this data is 3 years old, so one could assume greater numbers in 2012. Some of these could indeed be individuals with multiple mobile devices, but as a measure of general adoption, these numbers are increasing and that is good.
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On a personal level, I use these statisitcs and these visualizations to scan for opportunity in ICT4D projects (academic or otherwise). I am not one who likes to create research just for the sake of it and so I scan statistics like these for potential environments where my proposed M4D ideas might take shape and succeed. I won’t go as far to say that we should all rely solely on statistics for pinpointing our research interests as many of these developing nations would be off the grid even then. But does this mobile adoption rate as compared to internet penetration percentages signal opportunities for networking functional segments of the populations in Mongolia, Vietnam, Nepal? Places where the physical environment itself can limit ICT infrastructure development? It sure does. It signals a great opportunity to leverage the steppes and nomads of Mongolia, the dense vegetation and distances of Vietnam, the endless mountains of Nepal. These statistics signal opportunity for networking and collaboration on scale. As such, they constitute the funnel in which all my daydreams are distilled into logical applications.