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Thursday, 25 September 2008 16:13

61 percent of global population now using mobile phones

The International Telecommunication Union does not make predictions lightly, which is why you have to sit up and take notice when it announces there will be some 4 billion mobile phone subscribers globally before the year is out.

The International Telecommunication Union Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure has announced that the total number of worldwide mobile cellular subscribers will reach 4 billion before the end of 2008.

Or, to put it another way, that means a global penetration level of 61 percent for mobile phone subscriptions.

Compare that to a figure of just 12 percent in the year 2000 and you can appreciate how we have become a cellphone crazy planet in a very short time indeed.

Dr Toure, speaking in New York where he participated in UN Private Sector Forums addressing the global food crisis and the role of technological innovation in meeting Millennium Development Goals, pointed out just how rapid this growth now is.

The global subscription penetration hit the 50 percent mark only early this year, and the ITU is confident it will have added an extra 10 percent before the year is out.

"The fact that 4 billion subscribers have been registered worldwide indicates that it is technically feasible to connect the world to the benefits of ICT and that it is a viable business opportunity" said Dr Toure.

Of course, while that 60 percent penetration statistic would tend to suggest that every other person on the planet has a mobile phone, that isn't the reality of the situation.

For a start, the figures represent subscriptions and not people. So you have to take 'double counting' into account as many people have more than one phone, more than one subscription.

The ITU does point out, to balance this, that subscribers in developing countries often share their handsets between many people.

So, looking more closely at the numbers, what is the main driver for this remarkable growth? Actually, the question should be where are the drivers, to be honest.

The answer, according to the ITU, would appear to be Brazil, Russia, India and China which have had an increasingly important impact in terms of population, resources and global GDP share.

These economies alone, says the ITU, are expected to account for more than 1.3 billion mobile subscribers before the year is out. Indeed, China hit 600 million in the middle of the year on its own.

What are the growth figures for other countries, and what opportunities and problems does this growth bring with it? Find out on page 2...


China does represent, without a shadow of a doubt, the largest mobile market in the world. But others are starting to make an impact as well.

India, for example, had hit 296 million mobile subscribers by the end of July this year. But that isn't as great as it first looks, as it represents just a 20 percent penetration rate.

That said, India has perhaps the greatest potential for growth thanks to the highly competitive market conditions that exist in the country.

The ITU points out that India’s mobile operators are competing for the low-income customers now, and the Average-Revenue-Per-User figure is now one of the lowest in the world at just USD $7.

A message that the ITU is keen to get across, however, is that all these figures have a real meaning, and mobile communications are changing the lives of real people.

So, in Africa and Asia for example, it says that quite apart from providing communication services to previously unconnected areas mobiles bring such things as m-commerce to access pricing information for rural farmers.

The positive impact of mobile phones can only continue to increase, as developing countries such as Indonesia, the Maldives, the Philippines and Sri Lanka within the Asia-Pacific region for example, launch 3G networks.

As the ITU says "broadband uptake enables a range of socially desirable and valuable online services, such as e-government, e-education and e-health. The use of broadband technologies can help overcome many of the basic development challenges faced by developing countries."

Perhaps we should gloss over the recent reports about people using their mobiles while going to the toilet and having sex then. Not to mention the chap charged USD $22,000 for watching four episodes of Friends on his mobile.

Although it is harder to ignore the much more serious problems of recycling mobile handsets when faced with such global growth, especially in developing countries where recycling is not a priority as of yet.

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