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The number of Internet users worldwide have doubled in the past five years and will surpass the two billion mark in 2010, with most of the growth coming from emerging markets, says the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The ITU is an agency of the United Nations which regulates information and communication technology issues.
The ITU reports that the number of people with access to the Internet at home has increased from 1.4 billion in 2009 to almost 1.6 billion in 2010.
The organisation predicts that about 162 million of the 226 million new Internet users in 2010 will be from emerging markets, where Internet users are growing at a higher rate.
By the end of 2010, 71% of the population in developed countries will be online compared to 21% of the population in developing countries. While in developed countries 65% of people have access to the Internet at home, this is the case for only 13.5% of people in developing countries where Internet access in schools, at work and public locations is critical.
Regional differences are significant: 65% of Europeans are on the Internet, compared to only 9.6% of Africans.
With rapidly increasing high-bandwidth content and an application-based web experience, there is a growing demand for higher-speed broadband connections.
ITU says broadband is a catalyst for growth and recently launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development that aims to promote the adoption of broadband-friendly practices and policies worldwide.
ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré says: “Broadband is the next tipping point, the next truly transformational technology. It can generate jobs, drive growth and productivity, and underpin long-term economic competitiveness. It is also the most powerful tool that we have at our disposal in our race to meet the Millennium Development Goals, the deadline for which is now just five years away.”
Over the past year, there has been strong growth in fixed broadband subscriptions. By the end of 2010, fixed broadband penetration will reach 8% globally. But penetration levels in developing countries remain low: 4.4 subscriptions per 100 people compared to 24.6 in developed countries.
Mobile networks available to 90% of world population
While high-speed Internet is still out of reach for many people in low-income countries, mobile telephony is becoming ubiquitous, with access to mobile networks now available to over 90% of the global population.
ITU’s new data indicate that among the estimated 5.3 billion mobile subscriptions by the end of 2010, 3.8 billion will be in the developing world.
Says Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, Sami Al Basheer: “Mobile phone penetration in developing countries now stands at 68% — higher than any other technology before. These countries have been innovative in adapting mobile technology to their particular needs and will be able to draw even greater benefits from broadband once adequate and affordable access is available.”
In developed countries, growth in mobile subscriptions has slowed considerably during the past five years, with a year-on-year growth from 2009-2010 of only 1.6%. In those countries, the mobile market is reaching saturation levels with on average 116 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.
At the same time, subscriptions to IMT2000/3G services have increased from 72 million in 2005 to 940 million in 2010. As many as 143 countries are offering IMT2000/3G services commercially, up from 95 countries in 2007.
Over the past year, mobile broadband has experienced steep growth, especially in Europe and the United States, and some countries have started to offer commercial services at even higher broadband speeds, moving to next generation wireless platforms.
200 000 SMSes sent every second globally
The trend from voice to (mobile) data applications is reflected in the growing number of SMS, or text messages sent, which tripled over the past three years to reach a staggering 6.1 trillion in 2010. In other words, close to 200 000 text messages are sent every second.
Overall, the price of ICT services is falling, but high-speed Internet access remains prohibitively expensive, especially in low-income developing countries.
In 2009, an entry-level fixed (wired) broadband connection cost on average 190 PPP$ (Purchasing power parity in USD) per month in developing countries, compared to only 28 PPP$ in developed countries. Mobile cellular services are much more affordable, with an average monthly cost of 15 PPP$ in developing countries compared to around 18 PPP$ in developed countries.
The relative price for ICT services (especially broadband) is highest in Africa, the region with the lowest income levels. The region lags behind when it comes to broadband access.
Although subscriptions are increasing, a penetration rate of less than one percent for fixed broadband illustrates the huge challenges that persist to increase access to high-speed, high-capacity Internet.