Digital Landscape in North America

July 2021

With North America already one of the more developed digital societies, Coronavirus (COVID-19) provided further impetus in 2020, with locked-down consumers working and learning at home, as well as shopping and entertaining themselves a lot more in an online environment. The rollout of 5G is also gaining speed in the region, although the perennial problem of the urban/rural gap continues causing some headaches for policy-makers and industry players alike.

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Key Findings

Pandemic speeds up digitalisation

The use and adoption of technology increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many people working or learning from home. Streaming services saw a spike in usage as housebound consumers sought out in-home entertainment, while commerce also became more digitised. This meant many households needed to increase their internet bandwidth to accommodate greater use. Although much of this was attributable to mobile devices, which continue to gain ground on PC in overall value sales, the latter more than held its own, benefiting from increased at-home activity that meant consumers often had both PC and mobile to hand.

5G on the way

At the start of 2021 around three quarters of the US population was covered by 5G. The sheer size of the country makes providing full, quality coverage an exceedingly difficult goal, with the 5G rollout currently underway following a similar urban-first approach to previous communications upgrades. However, the key players involved have committed to broadening coverage as much as possible.

Amazon joins the internet space race

Marking a key development in the race for satellite internet, Amazon was officially approved by the Federal Communications Commission to begin deploying satellites through its Project Kuiper programme, as it aims to build an interconnected internet network from space. Main rival SpaceX, as of February 2021, had launched over 1,000 satellites through its Starlink programme and was poised to send thousands more into orbit to consolidate its leadership position. As the Starlink and Project Kuiper programmes continue to develop, likely at an increasingly expeditious rate, consumers and government agencies alike will be holding both players to their long-stated promise of helping bridge the digital divide by providing high-speed internet access to underserved rural areas.

Introduction

Scope
Key findings

Regional Overview

North America has the highest internet penetration rate
Sluggish growth for North America with its high per capita rates
US a shining light in terms of mobile connectivity
US and Canada still have a urban/rural divide in digital terms
Mobile phone is the preferred method to access the internet
US and Canada continue to increase access to high-quality broadband
US and Canada with near 100% 3G and LTE/WiMAX access

Country Snapshots

Canada: Market Context (1)
Canada: Market Context (2)
USA: Market Context (1)
USA: Market Context (2)

Forecast Projections

North America a leading region for telecoms spend
Consumer desire to tap into digital services drives mobile internet
Pandemic helps drive use of mobiles for proximity payments
US will remain strong in mobile connectivity
Pandemic underlines the importance of high-quality broadband access
With universal 3G coverage, industry players are now driving 5G rollout
Key takeaways
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