Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Thoughts from yesteryear

Posted by Nick on September 5, 2008

I’ve recently moved house from a new build to a 1920s suburban London home. I like my new house but it needs some work to bring it into the 21st century. Last week my friends and I were re-arranging our furniture so that our broadband cable could be routed throughout the house (you might think someone with an interest in technology would opt for wireless from the outset, but alas that’s still on the to-do list).

FT from 1996

During the move I uncovered an old copy of the Financial Times lodged under a very heavy piece of mahogany furniture: I was on the verge of throwing the paper away when a picture caught my eye. It was a picture of people using dated mobile and landline phones, on further investigation I realised it was a telecommunications supplement. The supplement was dated 09 April 1996 and authored by Alan Cane, an FT journalist who’s still providing cutting edge insight into the sector today.

12 years is a long time in some industries, but in telecoms the last 12 years have been the equivalent of several lifetimes. To try and add some perspective around how quickly things have moved on: Cane notes ITU statistics from the time put India at a telephone penetration of just one per 100 people and for every 1000 inhabitants only 0.0002 were connected to the internet, compared to Sweden’s internet connectivity ratio of 48.9 per 1000 inhabitants – hard to imagine, isn’t it? But that was the communications landscape in April 1996.

Using a handy application on the ITU website called ‘global view’ (which uses Microsoft Virtual Earth to outline current telecommunications usage and infrastructure by market) I tracked down current penetration rates in India. Today there are 3.37 fixed telephone lines per 100 inhabitants and internet connectivity has reached 6.93 per 100 inhabitants. But what really struck me was mobile. On average today of every 100 citizens in Indian 19.98 have a mobile phone and coverage extends to 60% of the population. At the time of the FT report in 1996 only 4 areas, New Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were served by cellular signal.

It will be interesting to see what the world looks like 12 years from now: will 3G penetrate emerging markets? What role will 4G technologies such as WiMax have and will we see a new revolutionary technology emerge that can affect our lives as much as the web and mobile? I hope so.

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