Nº 6 2015 > Broadband

The State of Broadband 2015

Broadband as a foundation for sustainable development

The State of Broadband 2015

Each year, the Broadband Commission for Digital Development publishes its annual “State of Broadband” report to take the pulse of the global broadband industry and explore progress in connecting everyone via broadband. This year’s report shows mixed messages about the growth of information and communication technologies (ICT) and the global state of broadband. Although strong growth rates continue for mobile broadband and Facebook usage (which quickly attained their first billion users — Figure 1), and mobile cellular subscriptions exceeded 7 billion for the first time during 2015, growth in global mobile cellular subscriptions and Internet usage has dropped, and growth of the Internet has reached an inflection point. 

1. Mobile broadband is the fastest-growing ICT service in history

Source: ITU, based on various sources.

Indeed, the UN Broadband Commission’s targets or best-estimate projections made in 2011 have not been achieved by the target date, 2015, and only seem likely to be achieved by 2020 at the earliest. The milestone of 4 billion Internet users is also unlikely to be achieved before 2020. Growth in Internet subscribers has fallen from around 8.5 per cent for 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 to 8.1 per cent for 2014/2015. The annual growth in Facebook (13 per cent for 2013/2014) is outpacing growth in the Internet (8.1 per cent), enabling Facebook to increase its market share to 45 per cent of the global online population of Internet users. Nearly one in two Internet users is now a regular, monthly user of Facebook.

Many markets worldwide are now fully saturated with regard to mobile phone penetration. However, although the number of unique subscribers continues to grow (currently between 3.7–5 billion, according to different sources), growth in global mobile cellular subscriptions is slowing due to saturation in a number of mature markets (Figure 2). ITU estimated that there would be 121 countries with mobile cellular penetration in excess of 100 per cent by the end of 2015.

2. Comparing global subscriptions/lines with subscribers

Source: Ericsson Mobility report, June 2015 (top chart): www.ericsson.com/res/docs/2015/ericsson-mobility-report-june-2015.pdf;
Source: GSMA (bottom chart).

In mature mobile markets, the Report finds that many operators are now focusing on:

  • migrating customers to 3G and 4G to stabilize average revenue per user (ARPU);
  • retaining customers in the face of competition from low-cost mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs); and/or
  • investing in foreign markets through mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity to achieve further growth.

Growth in the mobile industry now relies more than ever on persuading existing subscribers to upgrade their subscriptions for new services and apps (including m‑banking and m‑payments). There seems to be plenty of room for subscription upgrades — Ericsson estimates that around 40 per cent of all mobile phone subscriptions in 2015 are associated with smartphones.

In terms of growth in 3G and 4G, Asia-Pacific now accounts for 50 per cent of all mobile broadband subscribers (Figure 3), up from 45 per cent in 2014. For example, China Mobile (the world’s largest mobile operator and largest 4G provider) enjoyed 214.8 million 3G subscribers and 189.7 million 4G subscribers by mid-2015. The rapid expansion of Asia and the Pacific in mobile broadband is squeezing other regions in terms of regional market shares; despite absolute increases in subscribers, Europe’s share fell from 16 per cent to 14 per cent and the Americas from 24 per cent to 22 per cent. The story of broadband — fixed and mobile — is very much an Asian success story.

3. The status of broadband subscriptions, end 2015 — an Asian success story

Source: ITU.

Future first-time Internet users are likely to come mainly from less well-educated, less urban backgrounds and users of less well-represented languages and dialects. According to some sources, the number of languages that are currently represented on the Internet is over 300 (or 5 per cent of languages in terms of number), but the large majority of languages are without a significant online presence. The Internet’s content continues to be dominated by a few major languages, most significantly English.

According to W3Techs’ survey of the 10 million most popular websites, 55.2 per cent are in English, with Russian, German, Japanese, Spanish and French being used by between 4–5.8 per cent of websites. A significant number of national languages like Hindi and Swahili are used by less than 0.1 per cent of these websites, while most of the world’s languages are not represented at all in their data. Wikipedia has performed the best in terms of number of languages over recent years, partly due to its reliance on user-generated content. However, growth in the languages available for some of the main online services is not matching the growth in Internet usage (Figure 4).

4. Multinational online services, but are they multilingual?
Number of languages in which major online services/websites are available

Source: ITU, from various sources.
* Over eighty languages, with another fifty in translation at the Facebook Community Translation Platform, which enables native speakers of any language open to translation to participate and help bring their language online.
**Includes some humorous languages such as Klingon, Pirate, Pig Latin and Bork! Not the same as internationalized URLs — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Google_domains.

To boost growth in the Internet, and to achieve universally available and more affordable Internet access for all will require huge efforts, better coordination and more effective use of existing resources by all stakeholders. The Report makes a number of policy recommendations about how the broadband industry can be revitalized to enhance growth in the Internet.

Adopting a National Broadband Plan (NBP) is one solution. There is still some growth in the absolute number of Plans, with 148 countries having adopted a national Plan or strategy by mid-2015, and a further six countries planning to adopt a Plan. Forty-two countries still do not have any form of Plan. Many countries are now moving into a phase of consolidation/revision. A number of Plans are reaching the end of their term this year in 2015 (e.g. Finland, Belarus, Belgium, Croatia, Mongolia, Paraguay and Singapore), and it is unclear whether these countries will “maintain” the recently elapsed Plan, revise it, seek feedback on its achievements and/or introduce a new Plan.

As the Broadband Commission for Digital Development concludes its work programme for 2010–2015, and enters into a new work programme for post-2015 onwards, it shall continue working with many different stakeholders to achieve digital inclusion for all.


Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years

In this issue
No.6 November | December 2015

Pathway for smart sustainable cities:

A guide for city leaders

Pathway for smart sustainable cities|1

Meeting with the Secretary-General:

Official Visits

Meeting with the Secretary-General|1
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Boosting “SMEs” for ICT growth

What can governments do better?

A guide for city leaders

By Silvia Guzmán, Chairman, ITU Focus Group for Smart Sustainable Cities