Could Smart Homes and Cities Create a New Digital Divide?

On both a local and international level, it seems probable that the move to the Internet of Things world will exacerbate the digital divide.

June 8, 2017

2 Min Read
Illustration of a city skyline

By Dan Jones

The Internet of Things (IoT) has the opportunity to improve the quality of life for many people around the world — by helping to save energy, automating simple tasks and much more — but, as with any major advance in the digital world, there will be winners and losers.

It seems likely that — in ten years or less — smart homes in cities like London, Manhattan, Seoul or Tokyo will be outfitted with a full complement of networked appliances connected to the Internet, as well as each other. Similarly, forward-thinking towns and cities around the world are investigating and implementing smart sensors, solar trash bins and traffic management systems.

That's going to be true in areas where municipalities have cash to spend, citizens can afford to pay for IoT devices and contract fees and vendors and operators can expect a speedy return on investment. There are plenty of places in this world where these conditions just don't hold true.

Consider the example of the Internet: It's been just over 25 years since the web first went public and transformed many parts of the world. Yet, lots of smart companies and people are still spending time and money trying to deliver the Internet to underserved communities around the globe.

Just like the Internet, IoT has the potential to have a transformative effect on the quality of life of people around the world. Unfortunately, it seems likely that many of the people who could most benefit from networked devices helping to manage things like energy costs, water quality and public safety will probably be the last to get such services.

I expect that the deployment of IoT services will largely track the deployment of the wired and wireless Internet around the world so far, since smart homes and cities will often ride on the same communications infrastructure as broadband services.

What this broadly means is that smart home and city services are probably going to be slow to arrive in rural areas and poorer urban areas in countries like the US. In global terms, it probably means that parts of Africa, India and Latin America will be the last to feel the benefits of IoT.

So, what do you think? Is there a way we can attempt to bridge this new digital divide before it really takes hold?

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