The huge opportunities and huge challenges of emerging markets

Cisco Systems has ranked the average data speeds of mobile networks in 20 countries, as Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported on Thursday, revealing a remarkable disparity. Canada boasted the highest average data speeds in the survey at roughly 4.5 Mbps, while India placed twentieth — yes, last — with average speeds of almost .1 Mbps. As writer Marcus Chan notes, that means that a Canadian user can download an entire album of music in about two minutes, while the same amount of data would take more than an hour to download in India. And the gap between those ends of the spectrum will only grow over the next few years, Cisco predicts.

That poses a huge problem for emerging markets, where mobile networks are often the only existing infrastructure for voice connections and internet access. The steep price of 3G devices has long shackled mobile data consumption in emerging markets, but as handset prices continue to fall, the problem increasingly is the recurring price of data. That provides opportunities for developers that can trim those costs by developing apps and compression technologies that can reduce data footprints on the network. And it will increasingly require carriers to offer innovative data plans at multiple levels to meet the range of their users’ needs.