Global web audience grows

21 October 2010

GENEVA: The number of consumers accessing the internet should surpass 2bn globally this year, with more than 5bn mobile phones also in use.

According to the ITU, a United Nations agency, the amount of people boasting home web connections reached 1bn in 2005, 1.4bn in 2009 and 1.6bn at present, and may top 2bn by December.

Half a billion residences - 29.5% of the potential total - are likely to be online when 2010 comes to a close, bettering 80% in the Netherlands, South Korea and Sweden.

Some 162m of the 226m new users will be drawn from emerging markets, as penetration hits 71% among mature countries but just 21% concerning developing nations.

Despite this, fast-growing economies were predicted to contain 1.2bn of the web population this year, including approximately 420m based in China.

Penetration rates are set to achieve 65% in Europe, 55% in the Americas, 46% in the Commonwealth of Independent States, 24.9% in Arab states, 21.9% in Asia Pacific and 9.6% in Africa.

Estonia, Finland and Spain already view online access as a "legal right", signifying the medium's rising importance.

In emerging regions, 72.4% of households own a TV, 22.5% possess a computer and 15.8% have internet connections, measured against 98%, 71% and 65.6% respectively in advanced nations.

Elsewhere, it was anticipated 5.3bn mobile subscriptions will be active worldwide by 2011, including 940m mobile owners in 143 countries using 3G services.

Mobile ownership expansion rates are slowing, not least because mature areas are "reaching saturation levels", with 116 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.

The developing world contributed only 53% of the wireless user base in 2005, a figure surging to 73% five years later.

Emerging geographies could attain 68% mobile penetration at the close of this year, mainly driven by Asia Pacific, as India and China add 300m customers on an annual basis.

African totals were pegged to come in at 41%, below the 76% average, indicating "significant potential for growth" remains.

"Mobile phone penetration in developing countries now stands at 68% - higher than any other technology before," said Sami Al Basheer, director of the ITU's telecommunication development bureau.

"These countries have been innovative in adapting mobile technology to their particular needs and will be able to draw even greater benefits from broadband once adequate and affordable access is available."

The ITU estimated the number of texts sent globally will triple from 1.8tr in 2007 to 6.1tr in 2010, or 200,000 texts a second.

Such activity equates to traffic revenues of $812,000 a minute based on a 7¢ (€0.05; £0.04) median charge, with the Philippines and US accounting for a combined 35% of all text messages in 2009.

A key obstacle is the "major broadband divide", as fixed subscriptions hit 555m this year, incorporating rates of 24.6 per 100 people in advanced nations, falling to 4.4 in emerging markets.

Cost is another differentiating factor, given typical monthly fees are $28 in regions like the US and Western Europe, compared with $190 in less established areas.

Data sourced from ITU; additional content by Warc staff