Digital Wallets & Smartphone Adoption Will Decentralize the Internet

4 billion people will come online this decade. To access the global economy, they'll require digital wallets & other decentralized assets.
Photo by David Dvořáček on Unsplash

The rise of digital wallets and the increasing globally ubiquitous mobile internet will lead to the decentralized web’s golden age. As satellite internet brings poorly developed areas online, mobile first products and services will experience rapid adoption. And through mobile internet access, digitally native and decentralized infrastructure will present the best option for integrating with global networks.

The most poorly developed areas of the world have been slow to achieve internet adoption. But as these people come online, they will overwhelmingly opt for decentralized infrastructure. Decentralization provides a means to bypass poor local infrastructure, support censorship resistant access to global systems, and set a clear and standard foundation for future progress.

Here is how it happens and why it matters to you.

Global Internet Access Rapidly Expands

In 2021, there are 8 billion people on the planet. And roughly half, or about 4 billion of these people have access to the internet. Its surprising to consider that 50% of the world still cannot consistently connect to the global network of humanity.

How can this be?

Primarily, the least developed countries account for majority of the population still without access. As of 2019, only 19% of people in the least developed countries have internet access. But even in developed countries, many locations have significant rural populations without proper telecom infrastructure. The cost of building reliable access to telecom infrastructure in these areas is a significant barrier to access. And lack of internet can impact basic needs like availability of telehealth services, educational access, and ecommerce.

This lack of access is finally changing with the expansion of affordable smartphones and satellite internet infrastructure.

For example, SpaceX is driving down the cost of space launch to Low Earth Orbit. With an eventual cost of $1.5 million per Falcon 9 launch cost or $10/kg. As a result, Starlink, a spaced-based satellite internet infrastructure can provide comparatively affordable internet access by current standards. Especially to areas traditionally outside the accessible regions of digital infrastructure like the least developed countries.

This means that the remaining 50% of the world will likely come online this decade.

A 2nd Order Consequence of Internet Access Growth

As global web infrastructure expands to reach the underserved populations, more people will come online quickly. But it also means that global interoperability will become standardized at the internet access point. Ie: the ways that people access the internet will become uniform and standardized. The 4 billion new internet users will use the same type of equipment and software, have an understanding of the same feature sets, and will have similar needs.

Starlink’s ability to provide global internet services anywhere on the planet will establish a baseline standard for connective services. Users will come to expect a minimum level of service and capabilities similar to Starlink as the minimum viable alternative. This means that if they don’t like their local ISP, they can opt for the global option. And as these major global internet providers establish connectivity to the entire global population, an interesting byproduct will emerge. The useful languages of internet traffic will contract to standardize universal communications.

While this sounds extreme, its already happening. The languages used on the internet are in fact already contracting.

Consider – of the 6,500 spoken languages on the planet, only 10 languages account for 75% of internet traffic. And 50% of all web traffic is dominated by just 2 languages, English and Mandarin. As satellite internet provides access to the remaining 4 billion people, the useful languages on the internet will further contract. This is because digital systems gravitate towards high levels of interoperability and standardization. We want to maximize our access to the largest human network. And we maximize the internets utility by using only a few common languages.

Using a few primary languages for the most highly trafficked areas of the internet makes it so that more people can access more information and services.

The Digital Age – A Mobile First Mindset

As the 4 billion remaining people come online, they will adopt a mobile first mindset. Skipping generations of old hardware and software,

We already know that as new groups of people come online, they overwhelmingly prefer mobile internet hardware. They are choosing smartphones as their method for interacting with the web. A direct result of increased affordability of smartphones and the ability they provide to bypass a lack of telecom infrastructure.

Evolution of mobile and fixed subscriptions, 2005-2019*

Explosive Growth of Digital Wallets and Neo-Banking

Many of these people are coming online in regions with limited access to modern infrastructure. Because of this we can expect their will be significant growing demand to bypass brick and mortar services. Instead, they will opt for digital and mobile friendly internet versions commonly adopted by younger generations in developed nations.

As an example, traditional banking services will struggle to compete with neobanking and the digital wallet revolution under way. Examples include Paypal, AliPay, WeChat, Venmo, Cashapp, and crypto. Popular with Generation Z, Millennials, the convenience and access of neobanking will also provide great value to the new group of people entering the digital age. Interestingly enough, neobanking is most popular in Asia and shows significant utility in rural areas.

As the data shows, neobanking services are experiencing massive growth and are projected to grow exponentially over the 2020 decade.

And as a result, physical banking infrastructure is dying.

Accessing Globalism and Escaping Local Infrastructure Via Decentralization

So how exactly does all this translate to a decentralized internet golden age?

As previously explained, the populations that come online this decade will overwhelmingly opt for mobile internet options. This is partly because of lack of access to traditional and modern infrastructure.

And as these people come online they will look to quickly integrate into the global economic ecosystem. But many local governments have restrictions and poor infrastructure to support global access. In these cases, people will overwhelmingly adopt the decentralized web solutions such as digital wallets, neo-banking, bitcoin, and other cryptoassets. These digitally native systems support global interoperability without reliance on localized infrastructure.

Digitally native web solutions are overwhelmingly designed as mobile friendly solutions. This makes it more likely that the newly digitized people will adopt their uses. Decentralization permits access to fundamental services without the need of physical infrastructure and trusted intermediaries. Traditional intermediaries are frequently unavailable in disparate and remote communities.

Private, Globalized Satellite Internet Bypasses Defunct Government Policy

But just having access to decentralized infrastructure doesn’t mean people will adopt it. The reasons new users will opt for decentralized options is due to privacy and politically oriented challenges. The type of problems characteristic of the underdeveloped and developing world.

Like in Myanmar, when the military cut access to the internet during a coup. Or like when the political establishment cut access to the internet in Belarus during protests. Like in Russia which plans to prevent access to Starlink and externally controlled internet providers. Or like in China where the internet is restricted by the governments Great Firewall. In these scenarios, access to satellite internet infrastructure and decentralized web systems will become the preference for the digital age. Specifically because they operate outside of state control.

It becomes the simple and no brain choice. People in these environments will opt for the trustless and censorship resistant digital services. In doing so, decentralized services provide a foundation that reduces future risks and allows users to make future oriented decisions with confidence.

Censorship Resistant Digital Wallets And The Tech-Enabled Exit

Internet services outside of traditional infrastructure provide an important buffer for people traditionally at the mercy of government control. It also provides access to the tech-enabled exit. Ie: a means to create a location-independent living online, which empowers individuals to flee oppressive systems.

Relying on digital wallets and support of outside infrastructure, local governments are unable to seize users’ assets. And users gain an ability to easily take their assets with them when they flee.

This threat of exit empowers people to make the best choices for themselves. Choices that were otherwise unavailable to them. Governments will therefore be forced to adapt their policies if their constituents have readily available alternatives. Again – in this scenario, decentralized systems allow people to bypass authoritarian control, forcing governments to take positive action.

Rapid Adoption of Decentralization This Decade

As decentralized adoption continues in tandem with the rapid global internet adoption, an interesting phenomenon will take place. Along with other digitally native and mobile services, demand for the 21 million supply of bitcoin will increase drastically. Consider the wealth and influence that owning an entire bitcoin will provide as demand increases across billions of people. 21 million bitcoin equally divided among a population of 8 billion people would mean that each person would own 0.002625.

It’s unlikely that demand will ever reach this point. But, it’s interesting to consider the supply and demand numbers on a varying amount of global adoption. And it doesn’t start or stop with bitcoin. There are many new and interesting ways decentralized web services are bringing positive change to the world. Over the coming decade, we can expect new cryptoassets to emerge, specifically designed to support communities with poor physical infrastructure.

If you assume the everything I’ve said is true, then 4 billion people are coming online in the next decade. And there will be an increased demand for mobile and decentralized services and assets. Then it’s safe to assume that digital assets will experience a golden age over the coming years. It’s still so early in the rollout and adoption of the decentralized web. It’s an ideal time to invest your time, energy, and money into this ecosystem.

I’m building a digital age worldview. Every Monday, I write and curate a publication called The Sovereign Individual. A weekly newsletter that includes news roundups and analysis to help digital age workers adapt and thrive in our changing society. Topics intersect at geopolitics, fintech, crypto, individual responsibility, and personal freedom. Don’t get left behind, subscribe below.

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