The World Wide Web has become an integral part of our daily lives. Internet access has shrunk the world, but how does its usage shape up between countries?

Emerging Economies Catching Up with Internet Infrastructure

( — May 20, 2016) — Whether we are accessing the internet on our phones, via desktop or laptop computers, with the help of a tablet device, or even as a feature on our wrist watches, the World Wide Web has become an integral part of our daily lives. These days, we use the net to find information, make purchases, watch movies and television shows, locate educational resources, and book vacations, as well as for communicating with friends, family members, those that share our interests, and even potential dates; we just can’t get enough of the internet and its powers of potential. One of the most staggering elements of the internet, though, is that it is a global phenomenon, accessible by people from all around the world. Such a fact can be difficult to process, as information and communication come so readily. Indeed, as you access your favorite website or read a fascinating blog post, it can be hard to fathom that there may be someone else on the other side of the world viewing such content at exactly the same time.

Internet access has shrunk the world, but how does its usage shape up between countries?

Analyzing internet usage: comparing countries

In 1995, it was estimated that just 1% of the world’s population had internet connection. Today, some 20 years later, that figure stands at 40%, and while that may not be as high as you’d been expecting, it’s still incredible to think that the number of internet users increased tenfold between 1999 and 2013. Indeed, many experts have predicted that internet users will soon hit a total of four billion people. So, where are these internet users located? It may come as no surprise that, during analysis conducted in 2014, almost 75% of all internet users lived in one of the world’s top 20 countries, with most users coming from Asia, followed by the Americas and Europe. Meanwhile, the remaining 25% of internet users must be divided between the rest of the world, with many countries claiming less than 1% penetration. In a recent study, the United Nations found that numerous countries considered to fall within emerging economies were still without internet access or had usage that could be deemed poor when compared to more developed nations.

Now let’s look at the factors that determine a country’s access to the internet. It is essential at this point to take influences such as censorship, the types of connection available, and internet speed into consideration. One look at this interactive map will go a long way towards clarifying the issue of censorship, as numerous countries in the developing world fall under limitations imposed by their governments. From countries being subjected to blocked content to those operating under strict rules dictating what they can and cannot view, the internet is censored across emerging economies and the developing world, ultimately limiting these countries’ usage.

In all of the top countries, the internet is used for both personal and work use, with nations such as China, Japan, and the US boasting an incredible number of technology-related jobs, including those in the entertainment and telecommunications industries. This could go a long way towards explaining why China, despite its censorship laws, is still one of the world’s most prevalent countries in terms of internet usage. These top countries are able to boast ready access to most lines of communication and better technology on which to use the internet, generally far higher download speed and Broadband/Wi-Fri prevalence, compared to Ethernet-dedicated internet that is more readily available in developing countries, and a willingness and ability to invest in technology.

Emerging economies: using the internet to create channels of communication

So what, then, of emerging economies? While it’s certainly apparent that there is a clear distinction between internet usage in developing economies and that in economically developed nations, things are continually changing and developing. Research has shown that while advanced economies still have the upper hand, internet usage is continuing to grow across emerging economies. The world is becoming truly interconnected, thanks to increasing efforts to improve telecommunications and infrastructure across developing nations and mounting smartphone ownership.

In addition, when it comes to broadcasting companies and the development of channels of communication, many countries, particularly those in the Middle East, are beginning to flourish in the face of their competition and are benefitting from the expertise of entrepreneurs educated abroad and expat workers from around the world. Companies such as Afghan Wireless, which was founded by entrepreneur Ehsan Bayat, are offering customers increasingly fast and reliable data, compared to relatively recently, and as such, are changing the face of internet infrastructure within their reach. When it was founded in 1998, Afghan Wireless gave birth to the country’s wireless communications market; previously, nothing similar had existed at all. These days, the company serves some 4.2 million people within businesses and private residences and provides the types of wireless and mobile services that we in the developed world have become accustomed to. While Afghan Wireless was one of the first, it certainly won’t be the last, and such ventures are bringing widespread internet access to people across emerging economies.

When comparing internet infrastructures from around the world, it is rather telling that the majority of users are still located within the developed world, occupying the 20 largest and richest nations found globally. However, it’s essential to note that countries within emerging economies, particularly those in the Middle East, are catching up fast, with increasing numbers of telecommunications companies and a rise in smart phone ownership and internet usage. Thanks to increasing efforts across industries, a better handle on technology, and the dedication of entrepreneurs from the region, many countries are, indeed, capable of catching up; only time will tell whether such economies also have the capacity to overtake their western counterparts.