“The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.” This popular quote hit home at the Global Mobile Internet Conference panel on meeting the challenge of global connectivity that I moderated this week. Internet.org is a global partnership between technology leaders, nonprofits, local communities, and experts who are working together to bring the Internet to the two-thirds of the world’s population that don’t have it. Founding partners include Facebook, Ericsson, Qualcomm, Nokia (now Microsoft Mobile), and Opera.

What it means

  • The age of the customer is everywhere. This point was cemented at the conference. Device makers, network infrastructure providers, and app developers have to work with telecom providers to leverage existing 2G/3G assets to tap unconnected subscribers or miss out on business opportunities. Governments also need to help by, for example, providing consistent electricity to homes. Improving the customer experience can help businesses grow.
  • Data provides the fuel for the mobile engine. Admaster, a China-based digital marketing agency, reaffirmed Forrester’s view that companies need to have a mobile-first marketing strategy, delivering contextual content to users in their moments of need. However, without a clear data analytics strategy, the ROI will be low. My colleague Jennifer Wise has written about, for example, how Facebook Audience Network can help businesses in a mobile, data-driven world.
  • Creative solutions are an imperative. Microsoft Mobile, for example, has launched a €29 feature phone for low-income users that comes with a Facebook button, and Open Garden has introduced Firechat, an app that uses a mesh overlay for messaging, eliminating the need for a telecom network where it isn’t viable to build one. Creativity extends to becoming a digital business — nondigital companies will have to reset and plug in.
  • Multiple screen sizes and platforms will dominate the future. Google Glass, Facebook’s Oculus Rift VR, and Leap Motion are some examples of how content will be distributed and consumed across screens and platforms. Given the many platforms to bet on, the dust has yet to settle around the dominant ones — but your business will need to learn from, and leverage, these vendors for future success.

The potential of bringing unconnected users to the mobile Internet is clear. A Deloitte report claimed that expanding access to the 4 billion people who live in developing countries would increase productivity in those areas by as much as 25%, boost GDPs by US$2.2 trillion and increase GDP growth by 72%, add more than 140 million new jobs, and lift 160 million people out of extreme poverty. Your choices in this mobility-, data-, and multiplatform-driven space will determine how successful you will be at reaching currently unconnected users and thus significantly influence your future growth.