NEW YORK: The mobile web is the "fastest-ramping technology transformation the world has ever seen," and will exert a profound impact on everything from social networks to retail, a new study suggests.

Morgan Stanley reported that the worldwide online population hit 1.8bn people last year, up 13% on an annual basis.

China's internet audience climbed 29% to 384m, despite the fact the web still only enjoys a 29% penetration rate in the country.

The US housed 240m netizens, 76% of the possible domestic total, Brazil's 76m signified a 39% reach, India's 61m represented just 5% of the country's citizens and Russia's 60m equated to 58%.

Although the net was responsible for 28% of North American media consumption in 2009, this was measured against 13% of adspend.

TV delivered 31% of usage and 39% of revenues, figures coming in at 12% and 26% for print, and Morgan Stanley said equalising online usage levels with ad budgets provides "a $50bn (€37bn; £31.4bn) global opportunity".

Facebook is one "new attacker" reshaping popular and advertiser behaviour, boasting an estimated 620m users and 550,000 apps that have been downloaded 500m times.

Morgan Stanley argued brands often under-exploit the potential offered by Facebook fans, 16.9m of which follow Starbucks and 16.7m "like" Coca-Cola, higher ratings than many major TV shows.

While social networks yield 27% of US display ad units, they command an average CPM of $0.55, far below equivalents of $10.41 for finance and business sites and $6.35 for sport portals, holding 2% and 3% shares.

Creating more engaging ads might help overcome this "dislocation", Morgan Stanley said.

Tencent, China's largest social media platform with 637m people utilising its instant messaging service, may be an example of how to boost returns having generated $1.4bn from virtual goods last year.

Elsewhere, Morgan Stanley stated there were 670m 3G mobile subscribers in Q2 2010, some 14% of all handsets, including 136.6m in the US, where uptake has reached 48%.

Penetration stood at 96% in Japan on 106.3m, and 80%, or 38.8m, in Korea, beating Italy's 34.3m, the UK's 29.5m, Germany's 26.5m and Spain's 24.7m.

Among emerging nations, Indonesia recorded a 57% year-on-year improvement to 19.2m, China's 14.5m amounted to a 941% surge and Brazil's 13.3m had leapt 148%.

Over 120m people logged on to the web via Apple's iPod Touch and iPhone 13 quarters after the first device was launched in mid-2007, a trend "the likes of which we haven't seen before."

NTT DoCoMo's pioneering i-mode mobile web service attracted 32m Japanese users following its roll out in 1999, compared with 27m people accessing Netscape's desktop online platform after its introduction in 1994.

M-commerce was predicted to contribute 2% of US retail sales in Q3 2012, and should obtain a 5% proportion "much faster" than traditional e-commerce, which will take a 6% share in the third quarter of 2012.

ShopSavvy's price comparison application, Gilt's fashion discount app and geo-location specialists Yelp, Foursquare and Shopkick demonstrate how things could develop going forward.

Mixi, the Japanese social network, also receives more than 84% of its page views through wireless gadgets, growing from 17% in 2006.

Real-time entertainment is now responsible for a 41% share of peak hour mobile traffic among North American users, up 27% on January, leaving firms like Netflix, Spotify and Apple well-placed.

Morgan Stanley predicted 2012 would be an "inflection point" as global smartphone shipments surpass 450m, thus outpacing demand for desktop PCs and Netbooks.

"It's the fastest-ramping technology transformation the world has ever seen," said analyst Mary Meeker. "I've been of the view for years that the mobile internet was the next big thing."

Data sourced from Morgan Stanley/Bloomberg; additional content by Warc staff