- By Jay Shedd
Bridging the digital divide
I have been in the telecommunications industry for many years and it never ceases to amaze me to see how far technology has come. The technological innovations of the past have all led up to this moment where we are connected to loved ones, information and commerce by a device that fits into the palm of the hand.
I’m of course talking about the mobile phone. But the mobile phone is more than just a material object, it’s a gateway to a better life.
We are already seeing that mobile devices and mobile internet or data are a major tool for accessing services and goods.
One industry that is going online and mobile is healthcare. The Guam Covid Alert mobile app and other similar contract-tracing apps around the world are one example of leveraging mobile technology to address a major health concern. Basic clinic services can be offered via an online portal, including booking appointments and accessing health records or billing. Mobile apps and wearables to track diet and exercise have long been popular. In addition, wearable technologies are becoming more advanced with features like accurate ECG and blood pressure monitors.
Another area where mobile is making a difference is education. As more schools are using technology as teaching tools, students need access to them. Students also need to start developing digital literacy and technical skills early to prepare for a future where technology will be widely used in the workplace or to pursue technology-related careers.
One such skill is typing. Typing is now often left out of schools’ curriculum because it is assumed that since children learn to navigate the touch screens of smartphones at an early age, they also have typing or keyboarding skills. This is not always true, especially for children who don’t have access to a computer.
Games, such as Animal Typing, are available on the App Store and Google Play to help young children learn touch typing at an early age. These games can be played on a tablet or by connecting a keyboard to a device. Ratatype is an online typing tutor suitable for tablets that is free and available in different languages.
In addition, mobile is becoming a major player in home security. Surveillance footage and security reports can now be sent straight to one’s mobile device and doorbells can contact the homeowner via a mobile app.
The applications of mobile are endless.
For more people to be able to access these services and benefits, the digital divide needs to be addressed.
Simply put, the digital divide is the gap between those that have easy access to computers and the internet and those that do not. The digital divide represents the distinction between those who can access the resources needed to get ahead in a world becoming more reliant on technology. For example, if a business only accepts employment applications online, how would one who does not have access to the internet be able to apply?
According to GSMA, the unconnected tend to be those with low income, lower levels of education and those who live in rural areas
Access to mobile devices and mobile internet, or data, can help bridge the digital divide. Anything you can do on the internet with a computer, you can essentially do on a mobile phone or a tablet – shopping, banking and education – even Guam Department of Labor’s online employment service, Hire Guam, is available via a mobile app.
A large digital divide is usually attributed to the ability to afford these technologies. And while many may not be able to afford a computer, mobile phones are more easily accessible.
The mobile device is the entryway to access to internet and is often the first barrier. Phone manufacturers recognize this. Earlier this year, iPhone released the iPhone SE, which is a more affordable iPhone compared to flagship models.
There are plenty of Android devices developed by Samsung, BLU and others that are more within reach for people with tight budgets.
In addition, the upfront cost for mobile devices is lower, as most telecommunications providers offer subsidized phones at low or no cost with a contract. In addition, budget phones on prepaid plans are widely available for those with a limited income.
Software is available that works hand-in-hand with low-end or entry-level phones to offer as a robust mobile experience with less data.
Again, phone manufactures step in to offer settings that use less data for those who have limited data plans. iPhone and iPad have Low Data Mode that can be enabled in the Settings under Cellular. Samsung users can set limits for data usage in Settings under Connections.
Google recently updated its Go Edition, a specialized version of its mobile software that is meant to consume less cellular data and take up less phone memory, which is ideal for users with limited data plans or that are on prepaid. Many of these low-end phones have limited memory. Less memory means less apps. Plus, as the memory fills up the device operates slower.
Google modified many of its apps, including Gmail, Maps and even YouTube, to use less data and memory. In the Go Edition, Play Store identifies apps that can be used off-line. This year’s update is said to be 20 percent faster than last year’s version.
Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu allow users to download content to watch later – whether it’s a favorite that will be watched over and over again, or to simply watch later. This makes their service more appealing to more users.
At a more grassroots level, businesses that are considering launching an app should consider streamlined apps that operate with less data and use less memory. Also, mobile functionality should also be at the top of mind when creating a website.
Presentation is very important, but an app or website that is aesthetically pleasing yet is difficult to use will turn-off potential customers who happen to be trying to conserve their data or that don’t have flagship devices.
Making the mobile experience more accessible to all people is and will continue to be a major talking point among industry and community leaders.
With almost half of the world’s population now using mobile internet, according to GSMA’s “The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2020,” the power and potential of mobile technology cannot be ignored. It must be leveraged to bridge the digital divide and empower all.
— Jay R. Shedd is senior director of Sales, Marketing and Customer Service at IT&E, the largest wireless service and sales provider in Guam and the Marianas. He has more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry.