Over 4 billion people still have no Internet connection

Mobile broadband is seen as the savior, but barriers such as a lack of network coverage and content in local languages have to be overcome

Cheap smartphones such as the Firefox OS-based Klif from Alcatel OneTouch and Orange are lowering the bar for getting connected to the Internet.

Cheap smartphones such as the Firefox OS-based Klif from Alcatel OneTouch and Orange are lowering the bar for getting connected to the Internet.

The number of people using the Internet is growing at a steady rate, but 4.2 billion out of 7.4 billion will still be offline by the end of the year.

Overall, 35.3 percent of people in developing countries will use the Internet, compared to 82.2 percent in developed countries, according to data from the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). People who live in the so-called least developed countries will the worst off by far: In those nations only 9.5 percent will be connected by the end of December.

This digital divide has resulted in projects such as the Facebook-led Internet.org. Earlier this month, Facebook sought to address some of the criticism directed at the project, including charges that it is a so-called walled garden, putting a limit on the types of services that are available.

Mobile broadband is seen as the way to get a larger part of the world's population connected. There are several reasons for this. It's much easier to cover rural areas with mobile networks than it is with fixed broadband. Smartphones are also becoming more affordable.

But there are still barriers for getting more people online, especially in rural areas in poor countries.

The cost of maintaining and powering cell towers in remote, off-grid locations, combined with lower revenue expected from thinly spread, low income populations, are key hurdles, according to the GSM Association. Other barriers include taxes, illiteracy and a lack of content in local languages, according to the organization.

At the end of 2015, 29 percent of people living in rural areas around the world will be covered by 3G. Sixty-nine percent of the global population will be covered by a 3G network. That's up from 45 percent four years ago.

The three countries with the fastest broadband speeds in the world are South Korea, France and Ireland, and at the bottom of the list are Senegal, Pakistan and Zambia, according to the ITU.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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Mikael Ricknäs

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