Since its inception, the Internet has spread globally, but unevenly, all over the world. It spread rapidly to households and businesses in wealthy countries, while it penetrated and expanded much more slowly in disadvantaged and remote sectors and locations. This inequality is known as the digital divide.
What exactly is the Internet?
The Internet is a decentralised set of interconnected communication networks with a global reach.
Its origin dates back to 1969, when the first connection was established between computers at three universities in California, USA, and became known as Arpanet, which stands for the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, now known as the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency Network.
One of the services offered by the Internet is the World Wide Web – www or the web – which is a set of protocols that allows hypertext files to be consulted and uses the Internet as a transmission medium. The web as such was born in 1990.
But there are many other services and protocols on the Internet, such as sending e-mails, transmitting files, chatting online, streaming multimedia content, remotely accessing other devices or playing online games.
In the West, Internet use grew rapidly from the mid-1990s onwards, while the rest of the world had to wait until the 2000s. Since 2019 more than half of the world’s population has become users and by January 2022 there were 4.95 billion internet users worldwide, around 62.5% of the world’s population, according to the Digital Report 2022.
The most used language on the Internet has traditionally been English (27%), followed by Chinese (23%), Spanish (8%), Japanese (5%), Portuguese and German (4% each), Arabic, French and Russian (3% each) and Korean (2%).
With high-speed connections, the Internet has significantly changed the way many people enjoy their leisure time, communicate and work, which in many cases is possible from home.
This leads to greater flexibility in scheduling and location and reduces travel time.
However, the digital divide remains a fact of life and a major effort is needed to reduce it, so that high-speed connections, essential for global Internet use, are accessible to all, regardless of economic capacity or place of residence.
This is where large organisations and communications and telephony companies come into play, devoting large resources and a lot of effort to developing new technologies that bring connectivity and digital services to all.
The aim is to reach all regions, including rural or hard-to-reach areas, and to expand and improve broadband coverage with the latest technologies to ensure that all society has access to the benefits of digitisation.
This is part of Telefónica’s commitment to achieve 90 to 97 percent rural coverage in its core markets by 2024.
Removing barriers and promoting accessibility
Furthermore, beyond the infrastructure necessary for digitisation, the Spanish telecommunications multinational, a pioneer in promoting accessibility, contributes to removing barriers that limit the use of digital services by seeking affordable solutions ranging from “social subscriptions” for people in vulnerable situations to a range of tariffs that allow broad sectors of the population to access these services.
Telefónica also supports public Universal Service funds, which guarantee access to basic communication services, pay-as-you-go mobile service, specific broadband packages and services for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
It also promotes the accessibility of digital products to facilitate the use of technology by all people regardless of their physical abilities and also supports vulnerable groups with programmes such as ProFuturo, promoted together with the la Caixa Foundation, which brings education to children in developing countries.
The future of the Internet
With almost 5 billion users, the vision for the future will be Li-Fi networks, a two-way data transmission technology faster than optical Wi-Fi that could revolutionise mobile communications and aims to transmit data through LED lighting.
By 2024, engineers are already working on 802.11be or Wi-Fi 7 with enhanced features that promises to be “a major milestone”,
“5G is coming to most countries in Europe, the US and Latin America. The problem is that most 5G deployments were based on 4G. So it will take a few years to have a true 5G deployment,” reckons Sujit Dey, director of the Center for Wireless Communications at the University of California, San Diego.
According to the GSMA, global 5G deployment is expected to cover one third of the population by 2025 and support an estimated 1.2 billion connections.
This network generation raises another issue: wireless (mobile) Internet access could already be at a higher speed than wired (fibre).
For Professor Dey, the connectivity landscape will change completely in the next 10 to 20 years, which is why “connectivity should be a birthright in this foray into the modern era”.