Nº 1 2015 > ITU’s flagship publication
Measuring the Information Society Report 2014
The latest edition of ITU’s annual flagship publication “Measuring the Information Society Report 2014” paints a picture of ongoing growth in mobile-cellular telephony, mobile broadband and Internet usage. Meanwhile, demand is shifting from fixed to mobile telephony, and from fixed to mobile broadband in the developing world. Although the information society continues to expand, digital divides still persist — and are even widening — in some segments. There exists especially a significant urban-rural digital divide.
The 2014 annual report was presented at a special launch session during the World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium (WTIS) in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 24 November 2014, attended by Houlin Zhao, now ITU Secretary-General, and Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, alongside representatives from governments, statisticians, industry experts and the United Nations family. Several WTIS sessions were dedicated to discussing the key findings of the report and the results of the ITU ICT Development Index (IDI).
ICT Development Index country rankings
ITU’s latest ICT Development Index (IDI) ranks 166 countries according to eleven indicators measuring their level of ICT access, use and skills, including mobile cellular subscriptions, households with a computer, Internet users, fixed and mobile broadband Internet subscriptions, and basic literacy rates. The IDI is a valuable benchmarking tool to track the digital divide.
The index shows that Denmark leads the world in terms of ICT development, followed by the Republic of Korea (which had led the index for the previous three years in a row). Sweden, Iceland, the United Kingdom. Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Hong Kong (China) and Luxembourg also rank in the top 10 (see table). The United Arab Emirates, Fiji, Cape Verde, Thailand, Oman, Qatar, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Georgia are the most dynamic countries, with above-average improvements in their IDI rank over the past year.
All economies in the IDI top 30 are high-income economies, underlining the strong link between income and ICT progress. The report notes that these countries have highly liberalized and competitive ICT markets that are at the forefront of innovation, as well as trained workforces with the skills to make use of information and communication technologies.
ICTs and the MDGs
The report also includes extensive analysis of how ICT development (as represented by the IDI) relates to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). New data shows significant correlation between the IDI and nine of the MDG indicators, notably those related to poverty reduction and health improvement. This indicates that there is also an important correlation between ICT development and other indicators of development in developing countries. “The report finds that progress in ICT development is linked to progress in achieving some of the MDGs. It is precisely in poor and rural areas where ICTs can make a particularly significant impact. ITU has long been a vigorous champion of ICTs as a cornerstone of socio-economic development,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, which produces the report.
ICT prices and the role of competition
The price of ICT services is a key determining factor in their uptake, and affordability (the level of prices relative to income) remains a major barrier. The good news is that where prices are being monitored over time, they are gradually decreasing — for example, entry-level broadband plans are becoming more affordable, and fell from an average price of 94.5% of GNI per capita in 2008 to 18.3% of GNI per capita worldwide in 2013. Advertised speeds for fixed-broadband plans are increasing: 1 Mbit/s was the most common entry-level speed in 2013, compared with 256 kbit/s in 2008.
It is widely believed that competition acts to reduce prices, but is this causal, or have price declines in mobile and fixed-broadband over the last five years just happened to coincide with the rise of competition? This is not necessarily causal — the introduction of new broadband technologies could be driving price reductions, rather than changes in market structure.
The report analysed trends in broadband prices for more than 144 countries and related the changes in prices to economic development (as measured by GNI per capita), urban population, level of competition in the market, regulatory frameworks (as measured by the ITU Regulatory Tracker), the presence of a data plan cap and speed. All of these variables were significant in determining price, except speed. The move from a duopoly to a triopoly (assuming equal market share) is associated with average prices 5.8% lower for fixed broadband and 7.8% lower for mobile cellular. The results of the analysis suggest that if fixed-broadband markets in developing countries were to achieve the competition levels of developed countries, entry-level fixed-broadband prices could fall by as much as 10% in the developing world, and mobile-cellular prices by 5%.
Regulation also plays a determining role in shaping prices, particularly in fixed-broadband services. The report suggests that if international regulatory best practices were adopted, fixed-broadband prices could be reduced by as much as 9.7% in developing countries. The results of a comprehensive price data collection for four different types of mobile-broadband service shows that mobile broadband is cheaper than fixed broadband in many countries. Mobile broadband in developed countries is six times more affordable than in developing countries. Austria has the world’s most affordable mobile broadband, while Gambia, Niger and Vanuatu have the least affordable. Many European countries, Qatar, Hong Kong (China) and Macau (China) also rank well for affordable mobile broadband packages.
Income inequality is one reason why fixed and mobile broadband remain unaffordable for large segments of the population in developing countries. A large proportion of households in the developing world cannot afford to have one handset-based mobile-broadband plan per person, and often a subscription is shared among members of the same household.
Big data for ICT monitoring and development
The report also explores the role of big data and its significance for ICT monitoring and for development, including data produced by telecommunication operators. In today’s hyperconnected world, people, objects and devices leave digital footprints in many forms, as well as ever-increasing data flows from transactions and interactions, messages and/or traces from the Internet of Things (IoT). The term “big data” usually refers to datasets whose volume, velocity or variety is very high compared to the kinds of datasets that have been traditionally used. The emergence of big data also reflects advances in technology that make it possible to capture, store and process increasing amounts of data from different data sources.
Data from mobile operators are available in real-time and at low-cost, and are being used, for example, to track mobility patterns and to map poverty levels.
The report explores ways of using big data from the ICT industry to monitor the information society, including mobile subscription and traffic data, and customer profiling to reveal new insights into ICT uptake and use, and the digital divide. A number of WTIS‑14 panels and sessions discussed the topic of big data.
For more information, see: www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/publications/mis2014.aspx.