In 2013, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt predicted that the entire world would be online by the end of the decade: “For every person online, there are two who are not,” he wrote on Twitter. But within ten years, “everyone on Earth will be connected”.
Yet in the two years since Schmidt’s statement, most of the world’s “next billion” web users still lack Internet access. While as many as 900 million people are expected to join the globe’s online population by 2017, roughly four billion would still be left offline, according to a McKinsey & Co. report.
Connecting this massive demographic to the web is no easy task, but the spread of low-cost mobile devices is making the “last-mile" journey easier: Now, using basic cell phones, families who might never own a computer can find key information through basic mobile text, audio, and web services. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal announced its shortlist of ventures that are revolutionizing the mobile sector in emerging markets, naming five market leaders—including Souktel—as pioneers in “bringing the next billion online”.
Souktel joins the ranks of Vodafone’s M-Pesa, the legendary money transfer service which lets users send and receive funds through their cell phones. Founded in Kenya, the venture has grown rapidly across Africa and Asia, and counted more than $20 billion (US) in transactions last year.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be named to this list,” said Souktel CEO Jacob Korenblum. “Through our partnerships with tech sector leaders like Facebook and Mozilla, mobile networks like Ooredoo, and international development implementers in 20+ countries, we’re working actively to bring life-changing mobile services to the majority of people who lack Internet”. He added: “Through these crucial partnerships, we’re confident we can play a major role in closing the connectivity gap”.