Barbados’ transition into the digital age has been progressive and comprehensive. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s continuous infrastructure enhancements and upgrades propelled the economic enablement of the island’s digital framework for communications and infrastructure readiness. Cross border e-commerce and the digital consumerisation of services via the Internet became norms.
Within one year of the January 2012 inception of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation’s (BEF) free Wi-Fi initiative, access that persons in Barbados had to free Wi-Fi had increased enormously. At the start of the project about 3% of persons had ready access to free Wi-Fi around the island. By the end of 2012 about 74% of persons had ready access to free Wi-Fi. As part of this process the project helped to create a culture in Barbados such that people expected to encounter free Wi-Fi in retail and hospitality premises and began to ask for it if it was not provided. This in turn set market forces to work so that business owners who provided free Wi-Fi were able to leverage that to be more attractive to their customers than competitors who did not provide free Wi-Fi.
By 2015 free Wi-Fi in Barbados is so proliferate that it is quickly becoming ubiquitous around the highly populated areas in Barbados, while continuing to be offered more and more in the outlying areas. Later this year, through a rich collaboration between the BEF and a private sector partner, people should be enjoying free Wi-Fi from various bus stops around the island.
Between 2000 and 2013 Internet usage penetration in Barbados grew from 2% of the population having access to 75% of the population having access. In 2000 Barbados had 6,000 Internet users and by 2013 the number had grown to 217,260.
This growth is reflective of the Government’s investments in education, the legal and policy framework and general enablement of business, the Private Sector’s Investments in infrastructure and the International Business Community’s investments into Barbados as a hub for cross border, digital business services.
During the global recession from 2009 – 2012 local infrastructure investment stalled, however in the past 24 months, aggressive investment in an all fibre network infrastructure to major population and business areas has seen average available Internet access speeds grow from 6mb in 2009 to 320mb in 2015. The continued investment into upgrading the island’s digital infrastructure is paving the way for significant digital commerce in all sectors that were previously hindered due to low-bandwidth limitations. Tele-medicine, digital animation, media services, e-commerce, etc. are all high-speed dependent services which can now be developed and delivered from the geo-space Barbados is blessed with.
On the horizon Barbados is well positioned to leverage the high level of investment into its digital infrastructure and build upon that through continued expansion of its use of technology in education that will lead to innovative ideas, products and business services.
The expansion of the legal and policy framework for the empowerment of business and commerce, will lead to a secure, safe and trustworthy domicile of confidential data for transaction oriented services such as e-currency, e-money, medical data, etc.
With the above, Private Sector and International Businesses are able to continue to leverage the innovative thinking developed within a nationally implemented technology centric education system. This combined with the strength of a safe, trustworthy, business empowering framework to operate in will lead to further economic development and investment.
The continued management, investment in and facilitation of all 3 segments (Education, Legal & Policy and Business) will ensure a bright future for Barbados filled with strong possibilities for growth and economic expansion.
It stands to reason that Education leads to Innovation, and Innovation leads to Economic Development, and Economic Development leads to Economic Growth. None of these can exist without the other and in a digitally enabled global village each requires equal attention and investment. Opportunities exist for those with the foresight and clarity to push the envelope of investment into countries such as Barbados where the quality of life combined with the quality of digital business infrastructure are second to none.