October 20, 2010

Number of Internet Users to Surpass Two Billion by End of 2010

On October 19, 2010, the eve of World Statistics Day, the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Telecommunication Union (ITU) released a report, The World in 2010: ICT facts and figures, explaining the number of Internet users worldwide doubled in the past five years and will surpass the two billion mark in 2010. There will be an estimated 226 million new Internet users in 2010, with a majority, 126 million, coming from developing countries. China is the largest Internet market in the world with more than 420 million Internet users. 

Where people are accessing the Internet is different when comparing industrialized and developing countries. For example, the number of people with Internet access at their residence increased from to 1.6 billion this year from 1.4 billion in 2009, with 65 percent of these in developed countries and only 13.5 percent in developing countries where access to the Internet in schools, at work and public locations is crucial. By the end of 2010, 71 percent of the population in industrialized nations will be online, compared to 21 percent in developing countries. Regional differences are significant: 65 percent of Europeans are on the Internet compared to only 9.6 percent of Africans.

There is a growing demand for higher-speed broadband connections to access rapidly increasing high-bandwidth content and applications on the Internet. The press release explains that the ITU, the leading United Nations agency for information and communication technology issues, “considers broadband as a catalyst for growth. Recently, ITU and UNESCO launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development that aims to promote the adoption of broadband-friendly practices and policies worldwide. ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun TourĂ© 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.’”

Moreover, according to ITU, “Over the past year, there has been strong growth in fixed broadband subscriptions. By the end of 2010, fixed broadband penetration will reach 8 percent globally. But penetration levels in developing countries remain low: 4.4 subscriptions per 100 people compared to 24.6 in developed countries.”

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 percent 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. Furthermore, 940 million of the 5.3 billion subscriptions will be for 3G services.

Access to mobile networks is now available to 90 percent of the world population and 80 percent of the population living in rural areas and people are moving rapidly from 2G to 3G platforms, in both developed and developing countries. In 2010, 143 countries were offering 3G services commercially, compared to 95 in 2007.

The ITU report says mobile cellular growth is slowing worldwide. In developed countries, the mobile market is reaching saturation levels with on average 116 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants at the end of 2010 and a marginal growth of 1.6% from 2009-2010. At the same time, the developing world is increasing its share of mobile subscriptions from 53 percent of total mobile subscriptions at the end of 2005 to 73 percent at the end of 2010. In the developing world, mobile cellular penetration rates will reach 68 percent at the end of 2010 - mainly driven by the Asia and Pacific region. India and China alone are expected to add over 300 million mobile subscriptions in 2010. In the African region, penetration rates will reach an estimated 41 percent at the end of 2010 (compared to 76 percent globally) leaving a significant potential for growth.