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.
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.
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.
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.
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