Realising the digital dividend; the Internet of Everywhere in 2020

11 December 2015

James Cemmell, Inmarsat Head of Government Affairs

  • government

James Cemmell’s blog first appeared in Tech UK as part of its #telecoms2020 Week.


As Woody Allen called out: ‘tradition is the illusion of permanence‘. Markets are dynamic, change is the constant; even the geostationary satellite only appears still; in reality it orbits at over 3km a second, corrected by judicious use of in-space propulsion.

Telecoms has been blindsided many times over the past century by the fallacy of continuity. Famously jubilant celebrations over the incredible success of the pager presaged the mobile revolution and pagers no more.

In the satellite world, those that put money into professional, government and broadcast markets found an island of stability, whilst investments in the 1990’s backed by deep financial pools into consumer focused plays – thinking Teledesic and others – floundered.

2020 is right around the corner. What are the major market dynamics between now and then? Flux is an excellent proxy. Huge swathes of the planet exist in an uneasy relationship with the natural ebb and flow of telecoms markets that insist on convenient conurbations of consumers, combined with easy access to backhaul.

Overlay this with global economic contraction, combined with a new fact of the global digital economy and you have an unstable space, which relentlessly demands an answer NOW – at least the pressure for solution before 2020 is intense.

Even the World Bank has come to identify telecoms and digital as a strategic pinch point in the development endeavour. It will dedicate its 2016 World Development Report – a global ‘state of the nation for development’ – to ‘Digital Dividends’.

Goal 9 of the recently launched UN ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ also requires the world to ‘significantly increase access to information and communications technology…by 2020’.

Priority amongst the global challenges is to drive access into the most remote areas and to the most disadvantaged groups – taking an approach born of the US emancipatory movement in the 1960’s ‘intersectionality’ and calling on typologies from the bottom of the pyramid – an early draft WDR 2016 presentation points to ‘poor older women in rural communities’.

Telecoms is now an enabler and societies, not just technologies, will drive new facts on the ground.

Limited access to infrastructure on Africa means limited inclusiveness benefits. Besides infrastructure services provided through ubiquitous technologies such as satellite-based ICT, access to infrastructure services is extremely unbalanced geographically, both within countries and between countries.

African Development Report 2014: Regional Integration for Inclusive Growth

In my view, crystal ball gazing isn’t a proven strategy in telecoms. Looking for critical sites of disruption: piloting, iterative development and scale is a more strategic process.

Look to Sub-Saharan Africa, South America, much of Asia for change born of practical need. Certain macro trends feature. Widely inclusive retail banking is one of the key drivers of whole population service engagement. Delivering retail banking to the last mile requires solution of the telecom/emerging market conundrum.

Similarly, the digital economy is now collapsed as a means with ‘economy’ – it doesn’t make sense to separate it. With applications now spanning every field of endeavour from elections monitoring through to agriculture yield management, smart sensors and tracking – the pressure to deliver productivity benefits is not going to politely tolerate legacy telecoms models.

2020 will be applications centric, with connectivity employed as a factor input. If telecoms is smart, it will embrace this, push downstream and look from 2020 through end-user eyes.’

Inmarsat is working with international partners in Sub-Saharan Africa to bring internet connectivity to communities in Nigeria and Kenya, to enable them to take advantage of the economic and social benefits it can offer. The Digital Frontiers project forms part of the UK Space Agency’s two-year, £32 million programme to generate new opportunities for the UK’s space and satellite industry to operate in emerging and established space-faring nations.

About the author

James CemmellJames Cemmell founded the I-Sat Connection Programme and is Head of Government Affairs at Inmarsat, with responsibilities that include Africa and international programmes. In the run up to the launch of the Alphasat satellite in 2013 and subsequent, he assembled a group of leading digital economy experts. These are now mobilised through the I-Sat Connection: Pushing Digital Frontiers programme to leverage satellite to its fullest extent in the pursuit of bridging the digital divide and delivering truly inclusive digital economies globally.

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