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Mobile Subscriptions Rising Globally

February 24, 2010

A U.N. agency said on Tuesday that mobile phone subscriptions will buck the economic crisis and top five billion this year, but high speed Internet remains a “digital divide” between rich and developing countries.

According to the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) report on developments in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector, there were 4.6 billion mobile subscriptions globally by the end of 2009, which corresponds to a penetration rate of 67 percent.

The penetration rate reached 57 percent in developing countries, which is over double its 2005 level of 23 percent, while in developed countries it averages over 100 percent.

“Demand for mobile telephony is fairly resilient with consumers willing to spend their disposable income on mobile services even at times of financial constraints,” statistician Esperanza Magpantay told a news briefing at the launch of the ITU’s 2010 report on Measuring the Information Society.

ITU official Vanessa Gray said the crisis is not likely to hit investments in the longer term as operators take account of the shift in revenue from voice to data and of the increasing importance of broadband.

“They will be trying to increase their revenues by investing in such technologies as broadband and if they think it’s a viable solution then also mobile broadband,” Gray told Reuters.

“We don’t necessarily expect a negative impact even in the coming years of the crisis on ICTs.”

According to ITU estimates, 26 percent of the world’s population were using the Internet, although only one in five people in developing countries are online against nearly two-thirds in rich nations.

Developing country’s growth penetration of mobile telecoms and the Internet was driven by the expansion in India and China.

The ITU said that a high-speed Internet connection costs 500 percent of average monthly national income per head in Africa, putting fixed broadband out of reach of most people, against less than two percent for Europe.

Gray said that one element in bringing down broadband prices is market liberalization that ensures all Internet service providers have access to affordable international bandwidth.

According to an ITU index measuring, the 10 most advanced countries in telecoms and the Internet terms were Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, Netherlands, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Britain in Europe and South Korea and Japan in Asia.

The report said the most dynamic developing countries include Nigeria, Vietnam and Cap Verde.

The lowest ICT prices relative to national income per head were reported to be Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuwait, Luxembourg, the United States, Denmark, Norway, Britain and Iceland.

The ITU index measuring showed that around the world, mobile is now cheaper than fixed-line telephony on average.

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