The ITU has revealed its latest set of statistics. They show that despite the global financial crisis the ICT industry not only continues to thrive but is also a prime driver of economic growth in other sectors that have been more badly affected by the financial meltdown, as Martyn Warwick reports from ITU World Telecom at Palexpo in Geneva, Switzerland.
It's not all good news though. The figures confirm that the digital divide, whilst not as wide as it was the last time ITU Telecom World was held (in Hong Kong back in 2006), remains a deep fissure cutting across the global economy.
The new publication, "The World in 2009" confirms that mobile technology is the catalyst behind rapid ICT growth and predicts that there will be 4.6 billion mobile subscriptions by the end of this year. Mobile broadband subscriptions are expected to top 600 million by the same date. The sector overtook fixed broadband subscriptions in 2008.
Mobile technologies are making a major contribution to the spread of ICT technologies, services and applications in developing countries, with a number of nations launching and commercially offering IMT2000/3G networks and services.
However, the ITU’s statistics also highlight important regional discrepancies, with mobile broadband penetration rates still low in many African countries and other developing nations.
Today, 27 per cent of the global population is online and able to access the Internet and fixed broadband subscriber numbers have increased threefold and more since 2004. Five years ago there were 150 million broadband subscribers worldwide and the ITU estimates that this figure will have risen to 500 million by the end of this year. The report finds that China is now the world’s largest fixed broadband market, having overtaken the US at the end of last year.
In Europe there are now 200 fixed broadband access subscribers per 1000 head of population and this throws into stark contrast the paucity of the availability of fixed broadband in the developing world. For example, in Africa there is just one fixed broadband subscriber for every 1,000 inhabitants. To make matters worse, the relative price of ICT services in general, and broadband in particular, is is highest in Africa, even though the continent has the world's lowest average per capita income.
In other areas, the ITU estimates show that three quarters of all households across the planet now own a television set and over a quarter of people globally – some 1.9 billion – now have access to a computer at home.
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