There Are Now Almost As Many Mobile Subscriptions As People On Earth, ITU Report Shows

An increasingly ubiquitous, open, fast and content-rich Internet has changed the way many people live, communicate, and do business, the 2016 edition of the International Telecommunications Union's flagship annual Measuring the Information Society Report, shows.

Subscriptions vs. Population

However, many people are still not using the Internet, and many users do not fully benefit from its potential. While the world is getting more and more connected, there are still huge investment gaps and opportunities that exist for the private sector to connect the unconnected.

The average cost of mobile services - calls, SMS and data - decreased in 2015, and the price drop was steeper than in previous years, down by as much as 20%. The price drop is linked to the increasing availability of prepaid packages that bundle SMS and local calls.

The Africa region showed the highest growth in the number of mobile-cellular subscriptions, in contrast to other regions, even though the continent remains economically underdeveloped, inhibiting further adoption of ICTs.

To bring more people online, it is important to focus on reducing overall socio-economic inequalities. Education and income levels are strong determinants of whether or not people use the Internet, and ICTs will be essential in meeting each and every one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General

"This year has seen strong improvements in ICT use, mainly as a result of strong growth in mobile broadband uptake globally," said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau. "This has allowed an increasing number of people, in particular from the developing world, to join the information society and benefit from the many services and applications provided through the Internet."

95% of the global population lives in an area that is covered by a cellular signal. Even though a majority of the world has some form of access to the internet, many do not actually get online. Mobile broadband networks cover 84% of the world's population, yet with 47.1% Internet user penetration, the number of Internet users remains well below the number of people with network access. While infrastructure deployment is crucial, high prices and other barriers remain important challenges to getting more people to enter the digital world.

Although there are almost as many phone subscriptions as there are people on Earth, this data hides a significant disparity in distribution. Household data from developing countries show that a significant part of the population does not own or use a mobile phone at all, with as many as one in five lacking access.

Affordability is the main barrier to mobile-phone ownership. It is the cost of the handset, rather than the cost of the service itself, which is often reported as the main barrier to owning a mobile phone.

Another important barrier is the lack of perceived benefits. In communities where overall mobile uptake is low, mobile phone use is perceived to have fewer benefits since fewer community members are also using this mode of communication. Other barriers include lack of ICT skills necessary for accessing the Internet through a mobile phone.

Access to the Internet is not enough, though. The report emphasizes the need for policy-makers to address broader socio-economic inequalities and help people acquire the necessary skills to take full advantage of the Internet. This is in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which highlights the need for a more integrated development approach, and that development challenges are linked and cannot be achieved in isolation.