Industrial Revolutions

Facebook and cheapest ever tablet get world online

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Getting the whole world online

It's hard to imagine life without the internet. Today, we use it for everything from shopping to banking and learning. According to the United Nations International Telecommunications Union, 3 billion people – or 40 percent of the world's population – will be using the internet by the end of this year, with two thirds of those users coming from the developing world.

But what about those who still aren't connected? In many parts of the developing world, people have little or no access to the internet and are living in a state of what can be called "digital darkness". is an alliance of major technology and communications companies including Facebook, Nokia, Samsung and Ericsson, looking to change that. The organization's goal is to make the internet available – and affordable – to the whole world.

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"Ninety percent of people in the world already live in areas that are covered with wireless signal," Javier Olivan, Vice-President of Growth and Analytics at Facebook, told Episode 9 of CNBC's Industrial Revolutions.

"Our approach is partnering with the existing industry so we can improve the business models that will enable getting those people online much faster," he added.

The stakes are high. According to research from Deloitte, if countries in the developing world had the same levels of internet access as those in the developed world, 160 million people could be lifted out of poverty, over 140 million new jobs could be created and $2.2 trillion in additional GDP could be generated.

"It's a task that's bigger than what one company can achieve on its own," Chris Weasler, Director of Global Connectivity at Facebook, told Industrial Revolutions. "So we're defining and we're planning and we're launching products with partners."

Read MoreMeat: Would you give it up to save the planet?'s projects include exploring the possibility of delivering internet access using drones, satellites and lasers, an Innovation Lab at Facebook's Menlo Park HQ and online education initiative SocialEDU.

SocialEDU is a collaboration between the government of Rwanda; telecommunications company Airtel; edX, an online education provider; Facebook and Nokia.

They have developed a pilot program that will give Rwandan students free access to, "high-quality, localized educational content via low cost smartphones." Study material on SocialEDU will come from some of the world's leading universities, including Harvard and MIT.'s goals are ambitious, but the organization is already having an impact. In Paraguay and the Philippines, an estimated three million people have gained access to the internet through partnerships.

"There's no reason to believe that the next Facebook wouldn't be born out of a village in Myanmar or a town in Ghana," Weasler said.

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Canadian company DataWind is looking to broaden internet access by focusing on the delivery of its low cost, functional UbiSlate tablets to people in India.

DataWind's cheapest tablet costs under $40, and users can access the internet through wi-fi or by using mobile networks with the aid of a SIM card.

"The key reason and motivation was to create a low-cost device that could deliver internet access and be used as an educational tool for students in India, especially for rural students," Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of DataWind, told in a phone interview.

As well as offering cheap tablets in the commercial market, DataWind has also been supplying the Indian government with low cost tablets designed for use in the country's vast education system.

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"The difficulty in India... is that 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas, where there are no paved roads and there's a lack of infrastructure. The result of that is that the quality of education in those areas is very, very low. The drop-out rates are astronomical," Tuli added.

"The hope is that by providing access to the computers and the internet, that helps resolve, or at least goes some way towards, empowering better-quality education," he said.

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