As internet connections continue to spread into developing nations, thanks largely to smartphones and several ambitious Silicon Valley projects, the number of people online is likely to pass three billion next year
The number of internet users worldwide will pass three billion in 2015, according to new estimates, increasing 6.2 per cent next year to reach 42.4 per cent of the world’s population.
This year, internet user penetration will top the 40 per cent mark for the first time as the web reaches 2.89bn users across the world.
By 2018, eMarketer estimates, nearly half the world’s population – or 3.6bn people – will access the internet at least once each month.
“Inexpensive mobile phones and mobile broadband connections are driving internet access and usage in countries where fixed internet has been out of reach for consumers, whether that’s due to lack of infrastructure or affordability,” said Monica Peart, senior forecasting analyst for the company.
“While highly developed nations are nearly saturated in terms of internet users, there’s significant room for growth in emerging markets; for example, India and Indonesia will each see double-digit growth in each year between now and 2018.”
A number of projects have been launched in recent months to accelerate the spread of internet connections in developing nations.
Facebook, for example, hopes to create thousands of drones the size of jumbo jets which will fly 17 miles above the Earth to provide wireless internet access. The social networking company is one of the main backers of the internet.org project which aims to connect the large parts of the world which remain offline.
Google is also working on similar technology to Facebook, having bought drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace earlier this year. The company creates solar-powered drones which can fly for several years at a time.
A Google spokesperson said at the time of the takeover: “It’s still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation. “
The search giant also launched Project Loon in 2013 which is investigating the use of high-altitude weather balloons which can transmit internet signals to the ground for the same purpose.
Paypal founder Elon Musk also plans to launch a fleet of satellites into space with the intention of delivering internet access around the world.
The billionaire has teamed up with former Google executive Greg Wyler, founder of WorldVu Satellites, to carry out the project, sources told The Wall Street Journal.
The plan is to launch around 700 small satellites into low-Earth orbit. Each satellite will weigh less than 250lbs (113kg) and cost under $1 million (£629,000).