By Bola Abbas
Lagos. October 17, 2012: The number of mobile phones subscriptions increased by more than 600 million to a total of about six billion worldwide, or 86 per 100 inhabitants, a development that indicates that about one billion persons in the world’s seven billion population do not have mobile phones.
According to a new report by the International Telecommunications Union mobile phone penetration increase slowed down to 11 per cent in 2011 compared to 13 per cent the previous year.
In the ITU flagship report, “Measuring the Information Society 2012” it emerged that approximately 2.3 billion persons or 33 per cent have access to the Internet by the end of last year.
The report also reveal that a growing number of Internet users now access the global computer network from home resulting in 14 per cent growth between 2010 and 2011 in proportion of households with Internet.
According to ITU, by end 2011, out of 1.8 billion households worldwide, one-third or 600 million had Internet access.
“In most developed countries, it is difficult to imagine day-to-day life without Internet. But two-thirds of the world’s population, and more than three-quarters of the population in developing countries, are not yet online. And of those that are, many do not have access to high-speed, high-quality Internet services,” says the report which optimistically highlighted the increasing numbers of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) uptake globally but also cited regional disparities and privations.
It further reveals that with the rapid increases in smartphones and handheld tablets, it is no surprise that the most significant uptake is taking place in the mobile broadband market. Mobile broadband services have grown by 40 per cent globally during the previous year, 23 per cent in the developed countries and 78 per cent in the developing countries, outstripping all other ICT services worldwide. In tandem with mobile Internet access is the mobile broadband penetration worldwide, bringing Internet access to large numbers of users without fixed broadband access.
“No saturation point has yet been reached for mobile-broadband penetration, and growth is expected to continue at double-digit rates over the next few years,” it projected.
“The emergence of mobile Internet services (both prepaid and postpaid) has played a key role in the surge in numbers of mobile-broadband subscriptions in developing countries, bringing Internet to a large number of users who have limited access to fixed-broadband services,” the report said.
In addition to smartphones and tablets, increases in mobile video applications over social networks are all shifting mobile phone usage from voice to data. And the shift requires commensurate significant upgrades of networks, higher speeds and more spectrums, all of which warrant sustained investment flows in the sector, ITU advised.
Fixed broadband networks provide higher speed, capacity and quality which high end-users such as businesses and governments need for governance, education and health programmes. But the fixed broadband networks also require much higher investments, particularly over the last mile connections, to homes and businesses, unlike mobile broadband infrastructure.
Overall, as in Nigeria, ranked 135 among 165 countries, the increasing number of networks has led to fierce competition in the sector and driven down consumer prices significantly, a key factor in the spread of mobile phone services. Others are increasingly cheaper and affordable handsets with no illiteracy limitations.
But speed and capacity remain problematic in developing countries. “In many high-income, developed economies, the majority of fixed (wired)-broadband subscriptions deliver very high speeds (of above 10 Mbit/s). But many subscriptions in developing countries are limited to speeds below 2 Mbit/s. This effectively restricts the type and quality of applications and services that users can access over the Internet.
“It is also important to note that while mobile-broadband technology helps to increase coverage and offer mobility, the mobile networks and services currently in place usually only allow limited data access, at lower speeds, which often makes mobile-broadband subscriptions unsuitable for intensive users, such as businesses and institutions. High-speed, reliable broadband access is particularly important for the delivery of vital public services, such as those related to education, health and government. The potential and benefit of mobile-broadband services is therefore constrained when mobile broadband is used to replace, rather than complement, fixed (wired)-broadband access.”
The Broadband Commission’s ambitious goal is to ensure that by 2015, global Internet penetration must increase from the current 33 per cent to 60 per cent, connect 40 per cent of households to broadband.
“Indeed, more and more countries are reaching a critical mass in terms of ICT access and use, which accelerates ICT diffusion and further boosts demand, driven by the spread of mobile Internet,” it said.