BARCELONA: The number of active mobile phone subscriptions around the world will climb to 5 billion this year, the International Telecommunications Union has predicted.

Figures from the organisation suggest subscription levels will rise from the total of 4.6 billion recorded in 2009, with the advent of more advanced mobile services, and the broader availability of handsets in developing nations, driving this process.

Dr Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of ITU, which is part of the UN, said "even during an economic crisis, we have seen no drop in the demand for communications services."

"I am confident that we will continue to see a rapid uptake in mobile cellular services in particular in 2010, with many more people using their phones to access the internet," he added.

More specifically, the ITU suggested that, in five years time, more people will be accessing the web using a wireless handset than via a PC.

Other areas of heightened uptake are set to include offerings related to mobile banking and healthcare, which have already gained traction in a wide variety of emerging markets.

Vodafone is one company that is attempting to tap in to this trend, having announced the launch of what it called the "lowest-cost mobile phone on Earth".

The Vodafone 150, unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, will go on sale for "below $15", with the slightly more sophisticated Vodafone 250 also being made available for "below $20".

Patrick Chomet, group director of terminals at the company, said "the cost of mobile handsets can be one of the most significant barriers for people in accessing and benefiting from the growing number of socially valuable mobile services."

"The lives of people who use these phones ... will be changed and improved as they become part of the mobile society."

India, Turkey and eight African countries, including Lesotho, Kenya and Ghana, will be among the first nations where these devices will be made available.

Data sourced from ITU/BBC; additional content by Warc staff