Mobile Internet doesn't just liberate us from the constraints of a wired connection, it offers hundreds of millions around the world their only, or primary, means of getting online.
The latest Global Internet report from the Internet Society focuses on mobile usage and how it has changed, and is changing, the way we use the Web.
In addition the mobile Internet doesn't only extend the reach of the Internet as used on fixed connections, but it offers a range of new functionality in combination with the latest portable smart devices.
Already 94 per cent of the global population is covered by a mobile network, 48 per cent are covered by mobile broadband, and 28 per cent have subscribed to mobile Internet services. Mobile Internet penetration is forecast to reach 71 per cent by 2019 and usage per device is forecast to more than triple over the same timescale. 192 countries now have active 3G mobile networks, which cover almost half of the global population. Smartphone sales now account for the majority of mobile handsets sold worldwide and tablet sales will soon exceed total PC sales.
The report points out that mobile Internet will play a key role in bringing the next billion Internet users online. Mobile has already leap-frogged fixed-line access in many countries because of limitations in the coverage of the network, and the availability of mobile Internet access significantly outpaces adoption today.
This combined with new services, often accessed via apps, are key to enabling social inclusion, interaction with government and commerce, and other applications. According to the report’s authors, these innovations are already driving a further evolution of the Internet and helping to realise the Internet Society’s vision that 'The Internet is for everyone'.
Mobile Internet access has the potential to improve many areas of people's lives from education and healthcare to productivity and leisure. It does, however, raise concerns particularly surrounding privacy and tracking. The report also notes that the 'app economy' may also limit our choice of device as new players find it hard to break into the market.
"Today we associate the mobile Internet with a smart device that runs on a specific platform and provides access to the apps that we use," says Michael Kende, Internet Society Chief Economist and author of the report.
"While this has created amazing benefits for users and an entire app economy for developers, it locks users into a chosen platform and ultimately limits choices in a way that is new to the Internet".
The full report is available on the Internet Society website.