As expected, the pandemic led to an increase in e-commerce activities.
In its report, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development noted the 3% increase in e-commerce’s share in the total retail sales for 2020.
Meanwhile, the U.S. International Trade Administration reports a jump in global e-commerce sales. From USD 3,354 billion in 2019, business-to-consumer e-commerce sales rose to USD 4,280 billion in 2020. Moreover, the sector’s growth will remain strong and steady, with an annual growth rate forecast of 8% until 2024.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has also drawn a starker picture of the s, a divide that satcom for government solutions can hopefully breach.
The jump in e-commerce sales during the pandemic is understandable. When the lockdowns and mobility restrictions hit, people had to go online.
Some people had reservations about buying, banking and doing all sorts of things online. They would rather shop in person because they wanted to see, touch and interact with the merchandise they were buying. Some were simply concerned about the privacy and security of their online transactions.
However, the pandemic left them no choice. They had to buy groceries, but they couldn’t or weren’t allowed out, so they had to buy groceries online. And once the initial barrier was breached, there was no stopping the flood of online services that naturally followed.
This is not the whole story, however.
According to DataReportal, there are 4.88 billion internet users worldwide. Considering that the world population currently stands at 7.88 billion, according to the United Nations Population Fund, that’s an internet penetration rate of 61.93 per cent.
In other words, the story of people transitioning to online commerce and services apply only to approximately 62 per cent of the population. How about the 38 per cent, or those who do not have access to the internet?
Take note that 38 per cent is probably an understatement, too. Some people might have access to the internet, but their internet connection might be too slow, unreliable or extremely expensive.
Some people, moreover, could have access to fast, reliable and affordable internet but might not have a device that would let them take advantage. Then, there could be people with an advanced web-enabled device or the means to obtain one but don’t have the necessary skills to use it effectively.
For these marginalised sectors of society, the pandemic must have meant getting cut off from essential services. Unlike other people, they could not go online to buy what they needed when they could no longer travel to get these necessities themselves. They could not readily transition to online learning when the schools shut down, and nor could they simply get on a video call with a doctor when the clinics closed.
Therein lies the digital divide separating those who had the means to use digital platforms in lieu of in-person services and those who did not.
One doesn’t need to advocate for the welfare state to see that, at the very least, the government has a responsibility to provide its citizens with the infrastructure that would allow them to flourish.
In this health crisis, moreover, the least a government can do is ensure that the pandemic does not disenfranchise its people and deprive them of their right to access essential services.
Therefore, in the context of this digital divide, the government is responsible for ensuring that its people have access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet. This way, the pandemic will not deprive the people of their access to essential services.
The lack of universal terrestrial communications network coverage is no longer an excuse today. The existence of low-altitude, low-latency non-geostationary satellites means high-speed internet is now possible even in the remotest places on Earth.
There’s not much needed to make satellite internet available on the ground, either. The only requirement is a small broadband terminal with a wi-fi enabler, and people can use their smartphones to access a satcom network and use its high-speed data services.
Imagine the possibilities. When remote villages have high-speed internet connectivity, students from these villages could learn apace with their urban counterparts through distance learning. Villagers, moreover, could have access to high-tech medical services from the big city hospitals through telemedicine.
The government doesn’t even have to provide these satellite internet terminals and pay for its constituents’ broadband internet use, although it totally can if that’s part of its mandate. It can just actively incentivise the private enterprises willing to bring satcom technology to its most vulnerable and marginalised sectors.
For its part, the government can also proactively explore the many potential applications of satellite internet to enhance government services.
Armed with high-speed satellite internet, government front-liners can respond quickly and capably to emergencies, properly perform their field missions and provide and receive timely updates to and from the central government.
Remote government units can also use satellite internet to equip their personnel through online reskilling and upskilling training. Doing this will further improve service delivery to its constituents.
Satcom networks that provide high-speed data open up a bright new world of digitalisation for governments. Some governments could not roll out cutting-edge digital solutions universally across their territory in the past. Satellite internet changes all this.
Now, with all government units and agencies, even those in the remotest regions, having high-speed internet connectivity, governments can take advantage of digital technologies. The Internet of Things, in particular, comes to mind.
A country’s network of roads could finally be truly interconnected, with sensors collecting data on traffic, weather, and pollution levels, among others. Data from such roads can then be seamlessly gathered in a central database. With the help of artificial intelligence, traffic lights can be automated and traffic redirected as needed for seamless road utilisation optimisation.
The government can also place web-enabled sensors in hazard-prone areas to monitor rainfall levels, earthquakes, and other natural calamities. When the system senses excessive rainfall that it deems will lead to flooding, it automatically warns vulnerable communities.
There are many other potential digitalisation opportunities that satellite internet makes possible. The above examples merely scratch the surface of the seemingly infinite possibilities.
The pandemic has led people to shift towards digital services, but it also highlighted the digital divide between those who can because they have internet connectivity and those who can’t.
Governments can help close the divide by adopting satellite communications solutions to help the vulnerable and marginalised gain access to the internet and thus a host of essential online services. Governments, too, can use satellite internet to implement comprehensive digital reforms to their services.