Everyone around you right now probably has a smartphone. You’re probably reading this article on a smartphone.
But it may not be that way in other parts of the world — for now.
A new report from Cisco says that by 2020, there will more people around the world who own a cell phone than those who have electricity or running water. In fact, 5.4 million people around the world will be seeing their hotline bling, whereas only 5.3 billion people will have water and 3.5 billion will have running water.
To put that number even more in perspective, by that time there will be 2.8 billion cars on the road across the world, CNET reported.
That means that by 2020, cell phone use will make up 81 percent of total mobile data traffic, the report said. Three-fourths of that is expected to be video traffic alone, according to the report.
“The mass adoption of phones underscores society’s increasing reliance on handsets for all facets of life. Yes, you can use the device to make a call, but you can also message your friends and families, pay for goods and services, turn on the lights in your home or binge-watch ‘Boardwalk Empire,'” CNET reported.
But it’s not just cellphones that’ll increase during this time. The report also said that there will be 11.6 billion “mobile-ready” tech devices — up from the 7.9 billion there were last year — due to the increase in wearable technology, like FitBits and Apple Watches. This will only increase as mobile networks increase their abilities, jumping to a “superfast 5G wireless technology to truly kick off in wide scale,” CNET reported.
Impoverished nations across the world will likely have the most amount of mobile traffic growth overall. The Middle East and Africa specifically will see a 117 percent increase in 2015, with Asian Pacific nations seeing an 83 percent growth and Latin America growing by 73 percent, the report said.
This comes at a time when developing nations have seen some increases in Internet capable technology, but not a significant amount. As the Pew Research Center found, only 24 percent of the world’s developing and emerging nations have mobile-ready smartphones.
The United States sits well above the rest, with 58 percent of the population owning a smartphone that can connect to the Internet. But less developed nations, like Pakistan (4 percent), Uganda (5 percent) and Tanzania (8 percent), don’t have that luxury.
“Smartphone ownership is also higher among the more educated,” Pew explained. “In all of the nations polled, those with a secondary degree or higher are more likely to own a smartphone than the less educated. This is especially true in Jordan, where 67% of the well-educated own a smartphone, compared with just 13% of those with less education — a difference of 54 percentage points. A similar gap exists in Chile.”
But to become more educated, people may need access to these smartphones. A worldwide report in 2014 from UNESCO found that hundreds of thousands of people in these developing nations often use smartphones and mobile phones to read, since they have access to electronic books that can be purchased cheaply and easily. In fact, 62 percent of respondents in the report said they read more because they could read on their phone.
This is especially helpful in countries where cellphones are easy to buy, but books are not. About 10 percent of respondents said that phones made their reading more affordable than print, and another 9 percent said that it was their only access to books.
“How do we bring text to the unreached?” the report asked. “The answer — at least in the immediate term — is mobile devices, and more precisely mobile phones.”
This can be especially important for women’s education moving forward, too. The UNESCO report said that reading through smartphones allows women to find easy ways to read without worrying about the repercussions of finding actual books. That’s good news since women read six times more than men, Time reported.
And that empowerment may have already begun. In October 2015, Tata Communications and MasterCard, two major worldwide companies, joined together to provide more than 100 million women with mobile tech devices over the next five years, The Huffington Post reported. They will start in India, Nigeria, Indonesia and Guatemala, hoping to reach a total of 25,000 women in those countries in the next few years.
Overall, the goal is to help these women find better access to their bank accounts, books to read and keep in touch with their digital financing.
“Three billion people will come online over the next decade primarily from the developing world,” Rangu Salgame, CEO, Growth Ventures Group, Tata Communications, said in a statement. “We now have our generation’s greatest opportunity to unshackle women from endless cycles of poverty and dependency by providing them with access to information and economic opportunities.”