Wireless Connectivity Dominates as 3.2B People Are Now Online: ITU
According to the International Telecommunications Union, 3.2 billion people are now on the Internet and wireless connectivity has become the dominant path for people to get online.
ITU, the United Nations agency that tracks IT development throughout the world, released its annual "Measuring the Information Society Report" on Monday.
The global survey of over 167 countries -- widely considered the most reliable and impartial source for information on the state of the world's connectivity and communications -- presented a favorable view of IT development throughout the globe, but also found that more needed to be done in the world's most remote and poorest regions.
3.2 Billion Now Connected
The biggest news from ITU's 2015 report is that there are now approximately 3.2 billion people online, as Internet connectivity throughout the world has boomed over the past five years.
Nearly half of the global population can access the Internet.
"By the end of this year," wrote ITU announcing the report's release, "46 percent of households globally will have Internet access at home, up from 44 percent last year and just 30 percent five years ago, in 2010."
The gap between industrialized nations and the developing world continues to be stark, though, as about 81 percent of the population in the developed world is connected, compared to 34 percent elsewhere. The number of people online in developed countries has nearly doubled in the past five years, but ITU found that overall growth in use of the Internet has recently slowed, down about half a percentage from 2014.
Wireless Dominates the Globe
Part of that slowing progress comes from fixed-broadband connectivity, which has risen slowly to an estimated 0.8 billion now, according to ITU's data.
But in the meantime, fast Internet connections through mobile technologies have taken up the slack. The number of mobile-broadband subscriptions worldwide has increased more than fourfold in the past five years, from 0.8 billion in 2010 to about 3.5 billion this year.
And according to the report, over 95 percent of the world's population is within range of some kind of mobile connection, with 89 of the world's urban population covered by 3G broadband connections. In fact, this year mobile broadband officially surpassed home-based Internet access as the most common IT subscription type in the world: 47.2 percent of connections are made through mobile broadband, while general home-based Internet connections make up 46.4 percent of the world's connectivity.
Wireless has become the chief method for connecting people for several reasons. For one, mobile devices are generally cheaper and now more ubiquitous than computers. The reach of mobile broadband can be extended into new areas much more easily, compared to fixed connections that require more infrastructure to be in place.
Challenges Remain in Connecting Everyone
But ITU pegged subscription costs as the chief reason for the explosion in wireless broadband connections, especially in underdeveloped countries. Broadband prices for cellular connections, according to the report, are down to 14 percent of gross national income (GNI) per capita worldwide, while fixed broadband in the least developed countries (LDC) continues to cost an unreachable 98 percent of GNI.
Even with the extensive reach of mobile connectivity, now covering most of the globe, approximately 350 million people in some of the poorest regions are still left without any option for Internet connectivity, which is a much-needed catalyst for economic development.
"ITU's work in gathering and publishing statistics allows us to monitor the real progress being made in [information and communication technology or ICT] development worldwide," said Brahima Sanou, director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau.
"Progress is encouraging in many areas but more needs to be done -- especially in the world's poorest and remotest regions, where ICTs can arguably make the biggest difference," Sanou said, "and help bring people everywhere out of extreme poverty."
Part of ITU's mission is to track progress toward the Connect 2020 Agenda, which aims to create an interconnected world to spread economically and environmentally sustainable development, with a target of 55 percent of households worldwide connected to the Internet by 2020.
And progress towards that agenda has faltered in some respects, according to the report. ITU found that the gap in the levels of Internet access, use and skills has actually widened between parts of the globe with connectivity ranked in the middle and the least developed countries over the past five years. For example, Africa continues to fall behind in comparison with the rest of the globe, with only eight countries not ranked in the bottom of ITU's global ranking. Much of Central America, along with parts of the Caribbean, has fallen significantly behind as well.
On a positive note, ITU now projects that by 2020, the spread of household Internet access will have reached 56 percent of the population, one percent above the Connect 2020 goal.
As for the U.S., it moved up one spot in ITU's global ranking since 2010, and is ranked 15th on ITU's development index overall -- behind South Korea (the leader), Denmark, the U.K., Japan, Australia, and a handful of European countries.
Subscribe to Latin Post!
Sign up for our free newsletter for the Latest coverage!