Mark Zuckerberg recently unveiled his consortium of partners pledging to improve the availability of internet access for the billions who can't reliably connect. Facebook is obviously in the business of utilizing people's information, so connecting two thirds of the planet makes a lot of sense.
The other companies participating stand to gain more than just goodwill as well. The task of hooking up under-developed will require a lot of cooperation. Not only will data infrastructures need to built inexpensively, but we'll also need to see a new generation of low-cost connected consumer hardware. Lastly, software developers will need to tinker with services which are focused on a First World audience, consumers who wont be able to afford gigabytes of monthly data.
The initial group seems to cover quite a few of these bases. Nokia has already been flirting with ultra-low cost handsets, even recently releasing the Lumia 520 Windows Phone sold unlocked for $150. Samsung is also very interested in this market as well, with continuing progress on their Tizen operating system designed for inexpensive low power phones. Qualcomm and Mediatek are on board with a wealth of experience in producing both high end CPU's for phones, but also extremely power efficient chipsets. Ericsson will be looking at options for developing new networks, and Opera is known for developing software which is data frugal, employing compression for web traffic.
The rest of the developed world stands to benefit from this research and development. Longer running phones, better battery life, lower cost handsets, and less network congestion. Applying those improvements to our current slate of high end premier phones could launch a revolution in mobile computing power at the same time reducing the amount of data we chew through for our favorite services.
What remains to be seen from these early announcements is whether the network roll outs and hardware developments described can be profitable on their own, or if they'll need to be subsidized by established revenue from other markets.
Zuckerberg's Legion of Tech Superheroes isn't operating in a vacuum however. The potential for tapping new markets is too attractive for other companies to overlook much longer. With the current smartphone ecosystem starting to plateau, businesses would be foolish to not start fact finding missions. Case in point, Google is already testing low cost data networks in under-developed areas by floating networking equipment on balloons. If any company can disrupt the best laid plans of other industry leaders it's Google.
This field is wide open, but once the ball gets rolling infrastructure could expand very quickly. It's easy to get cynical about the motives of large corporations, but we could soon see an explosion of new communities, new points of view online. The data population is about to expand, and our world is about to get a little bit smaller still.
For more info on Zuckerberg's plans head over to Internet.org.