September 5, 2016

7 Billion People Live in an Area Covered by a Mobile-Cellular Network

Mobile network coverage
and evolving technologies: ITU
"Seven billion people (95% of the global population) live in an area that is covered by a mobile-cellular network," according to a report titled ICT Facts and Figures 2016. Published annually since 2009 by the ITU, a United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies based in Geneva, Switzerland, this year's report provides statistical evidence of a digital divide that exists regarding access to affordable mobile broadband, as well as the widening gender gap of Internet penetration.

There is a common perception that people worldwide have access to the Internet, which is supported by the fact that 84 percent of the global population has access to mobile-broadband networks (3G or above). However, mobile-broadband networks reach just 67 percent of the global rural population. 

With respect to Long-Term Evolution, commonly marketed as 4G LTE, a standard for wireless communication of high-speed data for mobile phones and data terminals, "LTE networks have spread quickly over the last three years and reach almost 4 billion people today (53% of the global population), enhancing the quality of Internet use."

World's Offline
Population, 2016: ITU
The digital divide remains a significant problem in 2016. The ITU claims that "close to one out of two people (47%) in the world are using the Internet but only one out of seven people in the LDCs. Developed regions are home to one billion Internet users, compared to 2.5 billion users in the developing world."

It is encouraging, however, to read that "in developing countries, the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions continues to grow at double digit rates, reaching a penetration rate of close to 41%. The total number of mobile-broadband subscriptions is expected to reach 3.6 billion by end 2016."

Not surprisingly, lower costs to access ICT services via mobile devices is a key driver to smartphone and LTE adoption, particularly in developing countries. "The average price of a basic fixed-broadband plan is more than twice as high as the average price of a comparable mobile-broadband plan," says the ITU. The report further explains that 83 developing countries had achieved the Broadband Commission's affordability target by end 2015. While five LDCs achieved the Broadband Commission target, broadband, fixed or mobile, remains unaffordable in a majority of the world's poorest countries.

Internet Penetration Rate for
Men and Women, 2016: ITU
For the first time, the ITU report provides statistical data regarding the Internet penetration rate for men and women. Disappointingly, "Internet penetration rates are higher for men than for women in all regions of the world." The report continues: "The global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. The gap remains large in the world's Least Developed Countries (LDCs) - at 31%. In 2016, the regional gender gap is largest in Africa (23%) and smallest in the Americas (2%)."

Also for the first time, the report provides statistical data on machine-to-machine (M2M) subscriptions as the Internet of Things (IoT) economy is beginning to accelerate. The report notes that "the countries with the highest M2M penetration rates are highly industrialized, advanced economies, including the Northern European countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark."

What are your impressions of the ITU report?

Aaron Rose serves as President and CEO of ROI3, Inc., a Seattle, Wash.-based company that empowers people in emerging economies through innovative, technology-based solutions. He is also the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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