Google's Internet-carrying drones and balloons are cool and innovative but Mark Zuckerberg called them fringe experiments, saying it is the mobile network providers that will get the developing world online.
Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales said that falling mobile prices mean the next billion people are getting access to the Internet quicker than anyone expected. The two tech CEOs addressed the issue in separate talks at Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona.
Google's head of products, Sundar Pichai, created a buzz on Monday announcing the progress of the search company's developmental projects Loon and Titan, which use balloons and drones high up in the stratosphere to deliver broadband to unreachable areas. Facebook also plans to launch similar solar-powered drones, but the reality of getting the world online is a little more mundane.
"90 percent of people live within the range of a network, but the real work happens here by companies," Zuckerberg told his audience. "We are not really the ones leading this," he added. This, of course, means they can be connected via boring old cell phone towers.
Wikipedia's Wales credits the improvements in bandwidth and the falling cost of mobile for getting the developing world online quicker than expected. "The boom we experienced with the Internet in the early '90s is happening now in these countries," he said. He cited Nigeria's increase from 0.1 percent online in 2000 to 38 percent today, as a prime example.
Both CEOs were promoting their company's projects to spread the Internet to all corners of the world. Wikipedia Zero is a project to encourage network providers in the developing world to offer users access to Wikipedia on their smartphones without incurring data charges. Facebook's Internet.org is Zuckerberg's project to help get the 4 billion people not yet online, access to the Internet where they could do things like sign up to social media sites.
Wikipedia's mission statement is to create "a world in which everyone has free access to the sum of all human knowledge." Currently Wales' site only harnesses the knowledge of roughly a third of the planet's population, so it's obvious why this project is important to Wikipedia. "It's a win-win situation, really," said Wales. "It gets people on the network to explore data usage and for us, it gets more people on Wikipedia."
Internet.org launched projects last year in Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya and is looking to expand into India, a country in which, despite its reputation as a global tech center, most of the population has no Internet access. Zuckerberg recounted the impacts of projects that he saw firsthand: "I visited programmes that gave people basic services that even if they had never used the Internet in their lives have found that the Internet serves as an on-ramp for jobs and education."
Like Wales, Zuckerberg highlighted that the key was to partner with network providers to reduce moible infrastructure costs and thereby the cost of access to the end user. The Facebook CEO couldn't resist using the point to take another swipe at Google, saying "There's a lot of press who want to write about experiments with different ways of connecting -- balloons, planes and satellite -- but that's actually at the fringe of what's going on."
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