Internet penetration: An analysis

Came across this interesting presentation by Microsoft on Internet trends in Europe. Europe & North America are leading the pack in terms of internet penetration & usage. By 2010, Internet is expected to overtake television as the primary media as Europe. Europeans are expected to spend more time in Internet than on television! This is a significant milestone in the history of Internet. With this Internet has truly gone mainstream. The trend in North America is similar.

Asia is lagging global Internet penetration by a sizable margin. In terms of absolute number of users Asia is the highest (Thanks to China), However in terms of % penetration we are still a good 5-10yrs behind NA/Europe. Current internet penetration in Asia is in the mid-teens. Internet penetration in most major developing countries in Asia ranges between low single digits to 20%, compare this with Europe/NA where the penetration is north of 70%.

Listed below are major stumbling blocks and some of steps that could help with improving the internet penetration in Asia:

PC Penetration: PC penetration rates in Asia are very low. Of the developing countries china leads the pack with around 22% penetration but rest of the populous countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia etc are lagging behind with single digit penetration rates. Making PC's more affordable(tax holidays etc.) and enabling easy availability of loans/low interest loans etc could help with improving the penetration.

Network Infrastructure: Internet bandwidth & Broadband penetration is very low. Per capita bandwidth availability is a fraction of what you see in developed countries. Also bandwidth charges are still high. Massive increase in bandwidth capacity coupled with drastic decrease in bandwidth rates is required to increase broadband adoption rates.

Regional language support & content: Currently a major portion of internet is in English/European languages. Most of current penetration is driven by urban users who are conversant in English. As more rural population/non tech population come online, serving localized content in regional languages is critical to increase penetration and make internet more relevant to these rural users.

Computer literacy & Internet awareness: Literacy rates in most of these countries are low. Computer literacy rate is even lower. Increasing computer literacy and internet awareness is very critical. This should be become a core part of the education system and should be mandated in all schools.

Utility apps: One of the most effective ways to improve internet penetration is by making it more useful to people for their day to day functions - online utility billing/payments , Online taxes, Online registration, online accounts(Banks, Brokerage etc), online shopping etc. Both Governments and corporates should aggressively invest in internet enabling key functions. Making things useful for people and enabling them to do all their tasks from the comfort of their home is a sure fire way of improving internet adoption.

Mobile internet: Globally in the next decade mobile internet users are expected to overtake PC users. Mobile penetration in Asian countries is fairly high. Enabling utility apps(mentioned above) through mobile internet would be a good way to increase penetration. This should also be complemented by lowering of mobile data rates.

By 2020, I expect Asian internet penetration to catch up with penetration levels in NA/Europe. I also expect global internet user base to exceed 5 Billion users (4-5x today's user base).

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