UN Agency Predicts More Mobile Phones Than People

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Many people in the developing world have ditched the landline for a mobile phone, with many families having multiple handsets. In the developing world, many people simply never had a landline and now, instead, have a mobile device. Moreover, the move towards individuals having both work and personal mobile phones might mean soon there could be more mobile subscriptions than people in the world.

Presently there are some 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, while the total population is about 7.1 billion. By next year, the number of mobile handsets could be larger than the world population, reports the International Telecoms Union, a UN specialized agency that tracks global information and communication technology (ICT).

The core mission of the ITU is to foster international cooperation and solidarity in the delivery of technical assistance and in the creation, development and improvement of telecommunication/ICT equipment and networks in developing countries — exactly the areas seeing the fastest growth in mobile handset adoption.

Currently, the Commonwealth of Independent States, which consists of countries that formerly made up the Soviet Union, leads the world with the highest level of mobile penetration with about 1.7 mobile phone subscriptions per person.

On the other end of the spectrum is Africa, which has 63 subscriptions per 100 people. India, which also has a growing population, is actually seeing its mobile adoption slowing.

“Every day we are moving closer to having almost as many mobile cellular subscriptions as people on earth,” Brahima Sanou, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, told the BBC. “The mobile revolution is ℠m-powering´ people in developing countries by delivering ICT applications in education, health, government, banking, environment and business.”

A study conducted last month by researcher Luke Wroblewiski, author of Mobile First, also found that in January, more iPhones were sold in 24 hours than babies born. This was based on Apple´s reports it had sold 37.04 million iPhones in the first quarter of 2012 — which puts the number at around 402,000 per day, compared to the average 300,000 people that are born each day.

The mobile phone is also outpacing the number of people that can get online and access the Internet. Worldwide online penetration is highest in Europe, which currently sees about 75 percent of all residents going online, followed by the Americas at 61 percent. Currently 32 percent of the population in Asia has online access, while the number is just 16 percent for Africa.

This could certainly create a “digital divide” between the developed world and those regions that are still developing.

“Two-thirds of the world’s population, some 4.5 billion people, is still offline,” ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Toure told the BBC. “This means that two-thirds of the world’s people are still locked out of the world’s biggest market.”

However, mobile phone adoption isn´t only outpacing those who can access the Internet or even the population as a whole; mobile adoption has already outpaced those who have access to basic sanitation. Earlier this year, the United Nations noted that while six billion of the world´s seven billion people currently have a mobile phone, only 4.5 billion can get to clean restroom facilities, while the remaining 2.5 billion, most of whom are located in rural areas, do not have access to toilets and other sanitation.

This suggests when it comes to priorities, mobile communication is still outpacing other basic needs.