The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Chaired by Ghana’s Minister of Communications, Haruna Iddrisu, says the number of Internet users worldwide doubled in the past five years and will surpass the two billion mark in 2010.
In its annual report posted on its website, the ITU says a total of 162 million of the 226 million new Internet users in 2010 will be from developing countries, where Internet users grow at a higher rate.
But the ITU says 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,” the ITU reports.
It noted that regional differences are significant, showing 65% of Europeans are on the Internet, compared to only 9.6% of Africans.
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.
The Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, Sami Al Basheer is quoted as saying that 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,” Al Basheer said.
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.
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 1 per cent for fixed broadband illustrates the huge challenges that persist to increase access to high-speed, high-capacity Internet.
By Samuel Dowuona