Catch Up or Leap Forward: Bridging the Digital Divide

Catch Up or Leap Forward: Bridging the Digital Divide

Technology as a Catalyst for Shared Value

As we commence 2022, the time is now to reflect upon what our priorities and value really looks like, and the critical role that technology, connectivity, and partnership play in delivering upon these aspirations. As part of this, I believe helping to make ‘the invisible visible’ with regard to the impact of infrastructure as an enabler for bridging the digital divide is absolutely key. And alongside this, equally a focus on ‘embedding by design’ right across sustainability, security, experience and diversity, equity and inclusion – aspects that interlink in many ways, especially in regard to ecosystem collaboration and that most vital of entities – trust.

To explore this critical conversation area in depth, I recently spoke with Chris James-Killer, VP of global strategic accounts and Terry Young, director, service provider product marketing, from A10 Networks, a market leader in delivering business critical applications for multi cloud transformation and 5G readiness, and with a superb track record of supporting technology as a force for global good.

Our full ‘Tomorrow’s Tech Today’ podcast discussion is available now – and here is a sneak peak of some of our key talking points.

Setting the Scene – What’s Changed?

The theme of ‘invisible to visible’ underpins our episode conversation, starting with just how vital broadband connectivity has become. From government bodies to the wider public, this is an issue that has increasingly been made personal, raising not just awareness but expectations on actions too.

“…there’s an awareness that if I don’t have broadband connectivity, it’s not just about getting entertainment, I may not be able to educate my children, I may not be able to work, I may not be able to get the health services that I need. So, I think it’s really raised the visibility and therefore the expectations of subscribers that service providers are having to build services for.” – Terry Young, director, service provider product marketing

Additionally, it is now increasingly understood that the actualization of change requires individual, organizational and ecosystem efforts combined – personal plus collective and connected action is an imperative for scalable and sustainable impact. A number of new alliances announced at the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 emphasize this trajectory – including between enterprises that would traditionally be considered competitive – alongside highlighting that for the communities that have most often been ‘left behind’ this typically equates to environmental and connectivity perspectives. The digital divide is frequently a sustainability divide too.

Power of Ecosystem Partnership for Good

We are increasingly seeing multiple organizations, from small or regional, to national and international service providers and ecosystem partners alike coming together to enable ‘tech for good.’ Prominent examples include the Connect America Fund and the Rural Broadband Consortium in the U.S. and Project Gigabit in the UK. And then there are more global initiatives, for example ‘Giga’ a collaboration by UNICEF and Ericsson, a leading A10 Networks alliance partner with the aim to “connect every school to the internet by 2030 and every young person to information, opportunity, and choice.” I could not agree more strongly – and it is fantastic to see this endeavor recently achieve the milestone of mapping the location and connectivity status of one million schools.

And focusing more on rural gaps, is the expanded partnership between Nex-Tech Wireless and Ericsson to deliver 5G capabilities in rural Kansas, which will remove barriers to connectivity with access to next generation services and enabling broader innovation too. But the examples do not stop there. In the full podcast available here, Chris James-Killer shares some customer examples of ‘paying-it-forward’ from service providers supporting students with free internet when they did not have the ability to pay for extra bandwidth, to the literal passing-it-on of unused gigabits within a subscriber’s package to an individual or family in need – wonderful and tangible tech for good in action. And if you are reading this in Australia and this strikes a chord, please see this link for an opportunity to Donate Your Data too.

Criticality of Infrastructure: Access, IP Connectivity and Security

Technological innovation takes time and by the point stories hit the media with a specific market launch, for example around 5G, there could easily be up to two years’ network upgrade migration work already taking place behind the scenes to have actually reached that milestone moment. And with subscriber expectations notably evolved, especially around experience, a more holistic approach towards connectivity is now necessitated:

“This means looking [beyond] access where there’s a lot of focus to end-to-end connectivity requirements, which include capabilities in the core network infrastructure that have an impact upon latency and security and many other functionalities that impact the subscriber experience.” – Terry Young

This equally applies to the work that must be done ‘invisibly’ to support expanded access – and the ultimate experience of that connectivity – to unserved or underserved communities. It also includes ‘futureproofing’ of needs as the bridging of the digital divide can create a ripple of impacts longer term, including area demographics, with people in urban areas moving to rural areas, as one example. We can reflect on the capabilities that reside within the core network and which A10 Networks specifically focuses on: IP connectivity and security take on center stage.

We firstly discuss IPv4 versus IPv6 adoption, especially for smaller service providers who are now frequently needing to augment their capacity to serve a larger customer base and are reflecting on network architecture and IP connectivity alike to best accomplish this. Now can be the moment to not only add standard networks to underserved communities, but to also upgrade the network as well. More on this theme can also be found in our earlier LinkedIn Live discussion available here.

In relation to security, this has clearly risen to the top of people’s concerns with threat areas expanding and indeed often converging, with a rise in DDoS and phishing attacks, fraudulent text messages weaponizing COVID-19 information, bad actor collaboration, cyber-crime business models – the list just goes on. With the speed of change to remote work and education, and more recently hybrid approaches, gaps in protection across human and technological lines have resulted. This is heightened when you consider the number of companies participating in different parts of our ‘cyber highway’ from wireless to fixed, which may be working hard to protect their piece of the infrastructure, from equipment to protocol, but can also negate a holistic view and coordinated, proactive defense action.

With the imperative to close the digital divide, expand access and enhance experience, this clearly raises an unintended consequences potential around cyber risk for rural broadband service providers and their subscribers too. A10 Networks has a particular focus on security, the network and especially DDoS protection and such support can play a key role in helping to upgrade networks affordably and seamlessly to bake-in these protections by design – affording a bridge to change whilst embedding trust. And alongside the podcast special, more on this critical subject can be found in this webinar: Exploiting the Digital Divide – The Cyber Criminal’s Perspective.

Final Thoughts

As we look ahead, it is clear that we are not just at the threshold of a catch-up opportunity around connectivity. It is a leapfrog one as well. To actualize this takes the three pillars of transparency, commitment, and accountability. In our discussion, we look to the how, notably, there is an escalation in industry collaboration across the increasingly interlinked areas of the digital divide, sustainability, inclusion, experience, security and ultimately… trust. Often treated separately, these must now be considered more holistically and with coordination.

This also raises another ‘how,’ namely business model innovation and underpinning cultural change around openness, co-creation, and empowerment. It includes helping everyone in your organization to appreciate that whether visible to the public or not, every part matters and every role can bring agency for change – network engineers and IPv4 to IP6 being a great example that is directly supporting the democratization of connectivity. A focus on smaller components and capabilities can make a huge difference and build a contagion of positive change and with it – shared value.

Ultimately this becomes a question of purpose: how we use our ‘sphere of influence’ for good – individually, internally and beyond to our ecosystem partners and consumers? More information about A10 Networks’ commitment to social impact can be found here.

The full podcast discussion is live now on all leading channels. All feedback is most welcomed – and now I leave the final word with Chris James-Killer: the time is now to come together and beyond that, to be accountable for change too.

“In the A10 ecosystem, we’re being asked by our strong alliance partners, to reflect on everyone we have in our supply chain, and we’re being asked by people that use us in their supply chain to make sure that we’ve signed up to things like the Paris agreement and the 1.5-degree initiative. And so, I think for me, what I’d like to see is greater responsibility and participation taken by many more businesses to get on board to see what we’ve all been really aspiring to recently – technology for good.” – Chris James-Killer

About The Author

Dr. Sally Eaves is a highly experienced Chief Technology Officer, Professor in Advanced Technologies and a Global Strategic Advisor on Digital Transformation specializing in the application of emergent technologies, notably Security, 5G, AI, Cloud, IoT, Automation disciplines, for business transformation and social impact at scale. An international Keynote Speaker and Author, Sally was an inaugural recipient of the Frontier Technology and Social Impact award, presented at the United Nations and has been described as the ‘torchbearer for ethical tech’ founding Aspirational Futures to enhance inclusion, diversity and belonging in the technology space and beyond. Sally is also the Chair for Global Cyber Trust at GFCYBER.

A10 Staff
January 10, 2022

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