Nº 9 2013 > Measuring the information society
Facts and figures
- Some 250 million additional people came online in 2012.
- The Republic of Korea tops ICT ranking for the third year in a row.
- An estimated 40 per cent of the world will be online by the end of 2013, but 1.1 billion households — 4.4 billion people — remain unconnected.
- Mobile broadband is now more affordable than fixed broadband.
- Almost the whole world is now within reach of mobile cellular service.
- Some 30 per cent of the world’s youth are “digital natives”.
- Broadband is getting faster, with 2 Mbit/s now the most popular basic package.
- Despite economic upturn, capital investment levels of telecommunication operators have not returned to the 2008 peak.
Mobile broadband over smartphones and tablets has become the fastest growing segment of the global ICT market, according to ITU’s flagship annual report Measuring the Information Society, released on 7 October 2013. New figures from the report show buoyant global demand for information and communication technology products and services, steadily declining prices for both cellular and broadband services, and unprecedented growth in the uptake of third-generation (3G) mobile connections.
ITU Deputy Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, launched the report during a special event featuring interactive panel discussions with representatives from government, industry and the United Nations family.
The report confirms ITU’s earlier estimates that by the end of 2013 there will be 6.8 billion mobile-cellular connections worldwide — almost as many as there are people on the planet. The report points out that while ubiquitous availability of mobile-telephone services is undeniable, with close to 100 per cent of the population covered by a mobile signal, not everyone has a mobile phone. From a measurement point of view, the ongoing challenge thus remains to identify those who are still left without access to ICT. An estimated 2.7 billion people will also be using the Internet by the end of this year — though speeds and prices vary widely, both across and within regions.
Mobile broadband connections over 3G and 3G+ networks are growing at an average annual rate of 40 per cent, equating to 2.1 billion mobile-broadband subscriptions and a global penetration rate of almost 30 per cent (see chart). Almost 50 per cent of all people worldwide are now covered by a 3G network.
ICT Development Index country rankings
ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI), as published in the 2013 edition of Measuring the Information Society, ranks 157 countries according to their level of ICT access, use and skills, and compares 2011 and 2012 scores.
The index shows that the Republic of Korea leads the world in terms of overall ICT development for the third year in a row, followed closely by Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Norway. The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Hong Kong (China) also rank in the top 10, with the United Kingdom moving up from 11th position last year (see table).
All countries in the IDI top 30 are high-income countries, underlining the strong link between income and ICT progress. Differences between developed and developing countries are large, with IDI values on average twice as high in the developed world compared with developing countries.
The report identifies a group of “most dynamic countries”, which have recorded above-average improvements in their IDI rank or value over the past 12 months. These include (in order of most improved): United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Barbados, Seychelles, Belarus, Costa Rica, Mongolia, Zambia, Australia, Bangladesh, Oman and Zimbabwe. “The 2012 IDI figures show much reason for optimism, with governments clearly prioritizing ICT as a major lever of socio-economic growth, resulting in better access and lower prices,” says ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré.
The report also identifies the countries with the lowest IDI levels — the “least connected countries”. Home to 2.4 billion people, the least connected countries could derive great benefits from better access to, and use of, ICT areas such as health, education and employment. “Our most pressing challenge is to identify ways to enable those countries which are still struggling to connect their populations to deploy the networks and services that will help lift them out of poverty,” comments Dr Touré.
The IDI combines 11 indicators in a single measure that can be used as a benchmarking tool and can help track progress in ICT development over time. It includes such indicators as mobile cellular subscriptions, households with a computer, Internet users, fixed and mobile broadband Internet subscriptions, and basic literacy rates.
Broadband pricing and affordability
Analysis of trends in broadband pricing in more than 160 countries shows that in the four years between 2008 and 2012 fixed-broadband prices fell by 82 per cent overall, from 115.1 per cent of gross national income per capita in 2008 to 22.1 per cent in 2012.
The average price per unit of speed (Mbit/s) also decreased significantly between 2008 and 2012, with a global median price of USD 19.50 per Mbit/s in 2012, less than a quarter of the price that was being charged in 2008.
The results of comprehensive data collection on prices of four different types of mobile-broadband service show that in developing countries mobile broadband is now more affordable than fixed broadband, but still much less affordable than in developed countries.
Austria has the world’s most affordable mobile broadband, while Sao Tome and Principe, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have the least affordable, with service cost equal to or higher than average monthly gross national income per capita. Other countries that rank well for mobile broadband affordability include Qatar, the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait and France.
A new model developed by ITU for this year’s report estimates the size of the digital native population worldwide. The model defines digital natives as networked youth aged 15–24 years with five or more years of online experience, and shows that in 2012 there were around 363 million digital natives. This equates to 5.2 per cent of the total global population, and 30 per cent of the global youth population.
Out of a total of 145 million young Internet users in the developed countries, 86.3 per cent are estimated to be digital natives, compared with less than half of the 503 million young Internet users in the developing world. Within the next five years, the digital native population in the developing countries is forecast to more than double. This first-ever global measurement of the number of digital natives is very timely, coming hot on the heels of ITU’s Beyond 2015 Global Youth Summit, held in San José, Costa Rica, and which concluded with a declaration presented to the United Nations General Assembly in New York by that country’s President Laura Chinchilla.
“Young people are the most enthusiastic adopters and users of ICT. They are the ones who will shape the direction of our industry in the coming decades, and their voices need to be heard,” says Mr Sanou.
The report shows that, globally, young people are almost twice as networked as the global population as a whole, with the age gap more pronounced in the developing world.
At the beginning of 2013 almost 80 per cent of households globally had a television, compared with 41 per cent of households with a computer and 37 per cent with Internet access.
The number of households with Internet access is increasing in all regions, but large differences persist, with penetration rates at the end of this year set to reach almost 80 per cent in the developed world, compared with 28 per cent in the developing world.
An estimated 1.1 billion households worldwide are not yet connected to the Internet, 90 per cent of which are in the developing world. The trend is strongly positive, however, with the proportion of households with Internet access in developing countries increasing from 12 per cent in 2008 to 28 per cent in 2013 — a remarkable 18 per cent compound annual growth rate.
The number of Internet users as a percentage of the population has been growing on average at double-digit rates over the past ten years. The percentage of the population online in the developed world will reach almost 77 per cent by the end of 2013, compared with 31 per cent in the developing world.
Investment in telecommunications
Telecommunication operators’ capital expenditure peaked in 2008, with global investment totalling USD 290 billion, followed by two consecutive years of decline. Despite the upturn in 2011, 2008 investment levels have not yet been restored.
Sluggish investment levels after 2008 are consistent with an overall economic environment of restricted access to capital markets. With the expansion of global operators into new markets, many operators are active in both developing and developed countries. The adverse financial environment in the developed world is likely to jeopardize investments in the developing world.