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A recent study commissioned by Juniper Networks revealed some surprising insights into how differently developing and developed nations view Internet access.
Where you might expect users in developed nations to score their online and connected experiences higher than users in developing nations, the opposite was actually true.
Here’s a look at some of the study’s most interesting findings.
(You can find the full study, conducted by Wakefield Research and called the Global Bandwidth Index, on Juniper’s site. It surveyed thousands of people across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.)
Connectivity: A World of Differences
Some of the study results seem to reflect cultural and demographic differences that are particular to individual countries. For example, Japan, which places a high value on face-to-face interaction, ranks last among the nine countries surveyed for the percentage of people who use the Internet for banking, professional purposes, and for accessing educational materials. South Africa and India, two countries where young people make up a large portion of the population, rank first and second in the Global Bandwidth Index for the percentage of people who rely on technology for making social connections.
But the strongest predictor of how people use technology and how they view the impact it has on their lives is whether they live in a developed country or an emerging market nation.
The difference is striking.
In emerging market countries, people are nearly unanimous in their belief that Internet access has been a catalyst for progress, with 97 percent agreeing that the Internet has fundamentally changed how they do things.
But in developed countries — where the web is so deeply woven into the fabric of everyday life that many people find it hard to imagine how they would work, shop, keep in touch with friends, or follow the news — only 78 percent say that Internet access has had much impact on their daily activities.
Put another way, in nations with the highest standard of living and the most advanced networks, the percentage of people who believe the Internet hasn’t had much effect on their lives is seven times greater than in developing countries.
This split stretches across almost every area of people’s lives, including economic opportunity and prosperity, with 40 percent of people in emerging markets reporting that it has increased their earning power, compared to just 17 percent in developed countries. Similarly, 60 percent of those surveyed in emerging markets say connectivity has transformed their social lives, as opposed to 38 percent in developed countries.
The divergence is particularly striking when it comes to education. In emerging market countries, two in five people say they have experienced a significant improvement in their access to educational opportunities and materials thanks to connectivity. In developed countries, it is just one in six.
Overall, the survey revealed that people in emerging markets generally view Internet connectivity as a powerful tool for personal advancement, whether it’s getting a better education, advancing in their career, or connecting to other people. But in the developed world, people see connectivity more as a tool for enhancing personal convenience that makes it easier to accomplish everyday tasks like shopping, banking, and searching for local information.
This dichotomy probably explains an interesting paradox that was uncovered by the survey.
The Satisfaction Conundrum
People in developing nations are much more likely to cite network quality and reliability as issues than their counterparts in developed nations. For example, people in emerging nations are twice as likely to say that network speed is a problem and more than twice as likely to say that finding connectivity at all remains an issue compared with those in developed nations.
This difference is not surprising given that the developed countries included in the Global Bandwidth Index are all moving quickly to newer networking technologies that are up to 100 times faster than what is typically found in emerging market nations.
What is surprising — at least initially — is that consumers in developing nations report much higher levels of satisfaction with their connectivity than consumers in nations with the most advanced networks and the highest levels of service.
But if you stop to consider the different role that connectivity plays depending on the local level of economic development, this seeming paradox begins to make sense. In countries where people are experiencing a dramatic change in their educational opportunities and earning potential, the sense of transformation easily outweighs shortcomings in network quality. Meanwhile, in developed nations where people believe the value of connectivity is much more utilitarian, any disruption feels like an unreasonable inconvenience.
So what does this mean for those responsible for delivering this connectivity?
For companies and governments focused on extending Internet access to the more than 4 billion around the globe who don’t yet have connectivity — the vast majority of whom live in emerging markets — the Global Bandwidth Index suggests that new users are likely to devote much of their time online to potentially life-changing activities like education, job skills training, and community building. Over time, however, as economies advance and prosperity increases, network providers should anticipate a move toward more functional activities, whether it’s more convenient ways to shop or bank, or easier ways to access and enjoy entertainment.
Network service providers should also assume that as network reliability and speed improves and connectivity becomes more commonplace, their customers will inevitably become more demanding about the quality of their service.
Mike Marcellin has worked in the networking and service provider industries for the last 20 years and is currently the senior vice president of strategy and marketing at Juniper Networks.