ITU: 6.8B Mobile Subs By End Of 2013, Nearly As Many People As There Are On Earth; 2.7B Internet Connections

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency that oversees IT and communications development, today released its latest annual report charting how well we are doing as a planet in getting everyone connected. Mobile is the topline success story: the ITU projects that by the end of this year, there will be 6.8 billion mobile connections, equal to the number of people living on earth today. Overall, there are 2.7 billion people online, using either a fixed or mobile connection.

The mobile growth counts the fact that some people have more than one handset, but even so, this works out to a total penetration of some 96.2 users for every 100 inhabitants/households. In other words, mobile carriers are now approaching what fixed-line services in all their years of service have never managed to do — despite the billions poured in by organizations like the ITU and governments, as well as private companies to turn teledensity around particularly in the developing world. For its part, fixed-line telephone subscriptions are on the decline and are now at 16.5 of every 100 households.

The ITU also provide some numbers that back up the push by companies like Facebook and Google to expand their footprints globally specifically on mobile platforms. While the ITU doesn’t spell out how many mobile users will be on smartphones, it notes that broadband penetration is gradually on the rise, with some 41.3 out of every 100 households now having some form of Internet access. But from the ITU’s figures, it looks like most of those users are on mobile today. For every 100 households/inhabitants, the ITU notes 9.8 fixed broadband subscriptions, but 29.5 mobile broadband subscriptions. In other words, if you want to target the newest netizens with your services, you need to do it on mobile.

ITU teledensity

That’s underscored also by where growth is coming: the ITU says that the proportion of households with Internet access in developing countries went from 12% in 2008 to 28% in 2013 “a remarkable 18% compound annual growth rate.”

Among the other data released today, the ITU crowns Korea for the third year running as the most tech-developed country in the world, taking into account, ITU says, some 11 factors including things like mobile and broadband penetration as well as take up of services on those networks. Northern European countries (Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Norway, in that order) make up the the next five ICT leaders. The UK moves up three notches to number-eight; the U.S. drops down one position to number 17.

If number-17 sounds odd for a country that has become synonymous with leadership when it comes to consumers taking up new tech services, remember that this relates to a lot of different factors, including how everyone in the country is getting online. If you recall, recent stats from Pew revealed that some 30% of U.S. adults don’t have broadband at home.

When it comes to those countries that are most behind in the ICT game, Niger continues to hold on to its position in last place, following the basic model that the richest countries continue to do the best in technology and the poorest the worst: the digital divide is alive and well, unfortunately.

(But not in every category: the ITU notes that nearly 80% of households globally have TVs, versus 41% with a computer or 37% with Internet access.)

One of the new metrics that the ITU is measuring in its report out today is to measure “digital natives” across the world, defined as “15-24 years [old] with five or more years of online experience.”It’s an interesting, slightly odd development to see an organization that is somewhat fusty and non-commercial in its ethos effectively cotton on to a marketing term. On the other side, seeing this number growing over time should be an indicator of wider growth overall.

More importantly, it will be interesting to see if the gap between digital natives in emerging and developed markets narrow over time. Currently, the ITU says that there are 363 million “digital natives” in a population of around 7 billion, or 5.2% of all people, and 30% of young people.

Right now the proportions are tipped overwhelmingly to developed countries: with 145 million young Internet users in developed countries, 86.3% are “digital natives.” In contrast, of the 503 million young Internet users in emerging markets, less than half are digital natives. Meaning: in developing markets, users are much younger on average. “Within the next five years, the digital native population in the developing countries is forecast to more than double,” the ITU writes.