Few people know that wireless connectivity, which we take for granted today, was pioneered by the Australian electrical engineer, Dr John O’Sullivan and two colleagues while working at the Dwingeloo Radio Observatory in the Netherlands. He invented a core technology that made wireless LAN fast and reliable.
We explore the impact of his work from 1999 when the first wireless devices were being built until now in a world with an estimated 700 million Wi-Fi connected Internet users and around 800 million new devices being added every year.
Wi-Fi and social change: Internet subscribers and user patterns
There are currently nearly 3 billion overall Internet users in the world and it is anticipated that it will increase to 3.8 billion in 2020. It is predicted that an additional 1.6 billion users will subscribe to mobile Internet hosts in 2020. The increase in Wi-Fi devices are expected to be around 800 million every year. Developing countries have only about 800 million Wi-Fi users in contrast to 3 billion users in developed countries to make-up the anticipated 3.8 billion global users.
France is the world’s leading Wi-Fi consumer, followed by the United States and the United Kingdom in second and third place respectively. Europe boasts the biggest overall public Wi-Fi public access points with 50% of the global Wi-Fi footprint.
GSMA forecasts that in 2020, 2G subscribers will decrease to 800 million and 3G and 4G users will increase to reach approximately 3 billion in 2020 and beyond.
Hotspots or public Internet access points increased with an estimated 47.7 million from 2014 to 2018 despite usability problems such as cumbersome login processes, network losses and increased roaming fees paid to non-preferred hotspot operators. Currently there is 1 hotspot for every 20 users as opposed to 1 for every 150 users in 2014.
Social lifestyle and Internet dependency
Despite moral panics and anxiety over the potential negative impact of the Internet on sociability and causing social isolation, theorist Manuel Castells, well-known for his concept of a network society, found that it increases sociability, civic engagement and the intensity of family and friendship relationships in all cultures. Moreover, the Internet promotes self-learning, self-expression, tolerance, environmental awareness, and social inclusion, among others.
However, the dependency on connectivity is evident when 53% users in the UK feel upset when deprived of Internet access and 64% users from India would give up chocolate for a year rather than going without the Internet.