Three-quarters of world now has phone access

By Semaj Itosno, Nairobi, Kenya

A new World Bank report indicates that around three-quarters of the world's inhabitants now have access to a mobile phone.

The report, Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximizing Mobile, says the number of mobile subscriptions in use worldwide, both pre-paid and post-paid, has grown from fewer than 1 billion in 2000 to over 6 billion now, of which nearly 5 billion in developing countries.

“Ownership of multiple subscriptions is becoming increasingly common, suggesting that their number will soon exceed that of the human population…the mobile communications story is moving to a new level, which is not so much about the phone but how it is used,” says the report by the World Bank and infoDev, its technology entrepreneurship and innovation program.

The report says more than 30 billion mobile applications were downloaded in 2011 - extending the capabilities of phones, for instance to become mobile wallets, navigational aids or price comparison tools.

In developing countries, citizens are increasingly using mobile phones to create new livelihoods and enhance their lifestyles, while governments are using them to improve service delivery and citizen feedback mechanisms. 

The report, the third in the World Bank's series on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Development, analyzes the growth and evolution of mobile telephony, and the rise of databased services, including apps, delivered to handheld devices.

"Mobile communications offer major opportunities to advance human and economic development - from providing basic access to health information to making cash payments, spurring job creation, and stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes," said World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte.

"The challenge now is to enable people, businesses, and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally-relevant mobile applications so they can take full advantage of these opportunities."

The report also explores the consequences for development of the emerging "app economy", especially in agriculture, health, financial services and government, and how it is changing approaches to entrepreneurship and employment.

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