Online world heads for 2bn


Image: By ITU
Online world heads for 2bn

ITU says in a report issued for World Statistics Day on 20 October that the world’ s internet users will pass the two billion mark this year, but African countries only have a 9.6% penetration.

The report says the number of worldwide internet users more than doubled in the past five years.

By the end of this year, more than 71% of people in developed countries will be online, compared to 21% of the population in developing countries and under 10% in Africa specifically. In developed countries, 65% of people have internet access at home, compared with only 13.5% of people in developing countries.

ITU notes that internet access is growing fastest in developing countries, however. 162 million of the 226 million new internet users this year are in developing countries.

The report adds that with so few people in developing countries having internet access at home, access at work, schools and public locations is critical.

With the rapidly increasing high-bandwidth content and applications on the internet, there is a growing demand for higher-speed broadband connections. 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.

ITU considers broadband as a catalyst for growth. 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.”

Mobile web spread like wildfire

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 said: “ 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.”

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.

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