7 billion humans … 7 billion phones
Agence France-Presse in Geneva
The number of mobile phones worldwide is set to catch up to the planet's population next year, the United Nations' telecommunications agency has said.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said mobile subscriber numbers looked set to top seven billion.
"More than half of all mobile subscriptions are now in Asia, which remains the powerhouse of market growth," the ITU said.
By the end of this year, overall mobile penetration rates will have reached 96 per cent globally, 128 per cent in the developed world, and 89 per cent in developing countries, it said.
"Near-ubiquitous mobile penetration makes mobile cellular the ideal platform for service delivery in developing countries," said Brahima Sanou, director of the ITU's telecommunication development bureau.
The ITU also forecast that 2.7 billion people, or 39 per cent of the world's population, would be using the internet by the end of this year.
Europe will remain the world's most connected region, with 75 per cent internet penetration, far outpacing the Asia-Pacific region, with 32 per cent, and Africa, with 16 per cent, it said.
"Household internet penetration - often considered the most important measure of internet access - continues to rise. By end-2013, ITU estimates that 41 per cent of the world's households will be connected to the internet," the agency said.
Over the past four years, household access has grown fastest in Africa, with an annual growth rate of 27 per cent, it said.
But despite a positive general trend, 90 per cent of the 1.1 billion households around the world that are still unconnected are in the developing world.
The ITU said the star performers in terms of access speeds were South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, alongside some surprises in Europe, including Bulgaria, Iceland and Portugal.
The cost of fixed broadband services has dropped precipitously over the past five years, declining by 82 per cent if measured as a share of gross national income per capita, it said.
In developing countries, however, such services remain relatively expensive, with residential fixed broadband accounting for just over 30 per cent of average monthly gross national income per capita. In Europe, a basic subscription costs less than 2 per cent, on average.