As IoT moves us forward, let’s not leave anyone behind

By Ludo Fassati, Head of IoT, Vodafone Americas & June Sugiyama, Director, Vodafone Americas Foundation

Under normal circumstances, it’s hard to imagine what a typical day without internet access would look like.  Connectivity drives the global economy and, now, our societies too. Today, digital connection provides access to essential goods, to family and friends, work and education. It’s vital to our well-being.  Our reliance on IoT was increasing even before the pandemic, but the crisis is creating an exponential need. In a new forecast, Juniper Research predicts we’ll see 83 billion IoT connections over the next five years, with a 20% market growth in 2020 alone.

Yet as technology moves us forward, we must be mindful not to leave anyone behind. Regrettably, however, universal access is not standard in at-risk communities.

IoT for Good

When IoT solutions are in place, good things happen. Connected platforms advance people and save lives in unique ways. Whether providing critical healthcare in a developing country or helping women escape domestic violence, connectivity brings vital resources to those who were previously unreachable.

For example, the connected solution CerVIA brings critical care to women in low-resourced communities where doctors are few, and healthcare providers are also community workers.

CerVIA is an affordable, accurate and accessible cervical cancer screening tool that improves screening accuracy through simple imaging and machine learning in an Android device. Healthcare workers and doctors can easily validate these screenings and in turn save more women’s lives.

Circle of 6 is a simple to use safety app for individuals to alert family and friends of their whereabouts if they need help. Used across 36 countries, the app is particularly popular on college campuses in the United States. Women who feel they might be in a potentially harmful situation can alert people for help through this app.

Additionally, SafeNight, produced by Caravan Studios as a division of TechSoup, is a tool that provides support for people seeking urgent shelter. Community members who are concerned about domestic violence can register to become part of the solution.

SafeNight alerts individual donors when local domestic violence shelters are full or unavailable and allows them to fund hotel stays for survivors. The app streamlines the process and gives organizations the ability to expand their support capacity.

Of late, IoT is also supporting new medical facilities including pop up facilities such as the IFEMA trade center in Madrid, which became a pop up field hospital with 5,500 beds.

Leaving some behind


While the global health crisis has been the catalyst for speeding up digital transformation in healthcare and education, it has also magnified an inequity in access.

Only 39% of the population in Africa, for example, has internet access. In Asia, home to the largest global populations across a multitude of both developed and developing countries, 50% of people remain disconnected.

Even in the United States, 10% of Americans do not have access to the internet. Research shows that household income and education level is directly linked to the likelihood of being connected or not. This means many children have to seek other alternatives when classes are offered online during a crisis, such as the current pandemic.

At-risk communities are being left behind by a world that runs on technology and connectivity. In place of investment, ad hoc solutions using WhatsApp and Instagram have been substituted for online education in the midst of crisis.

Meanwhile, schools and nonprofits in the United States hurried to collect used computers and other devices to maintain education for children in underserved neighborhoods.

IoT for All


While admirable, these are not sustainable options and should not be viewed as permanent answers. The makeshift resolutions leverage tools not specifically designed to meet the needs of the situation, leaving holes in the problem.

IoT can be used by both the public and private sectors to combat the current global challenge. It can also help us innovate to, hopefully, avoid future crises. But for IoT to truly do good, it must be IoT for all.