There are currently over six billion cellphone subscriptions worldwide, meaning 75% of the world now has access to a cellphone.
No other technology in world history matches cellphones in terms of the rate at which they have spread – with three out of every four human beings worldwide now having access
This is according to the World Bank's latest report on the mobile era, “Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximising Mobile”, which reveals over six billion mobile subscriptions are currently in use worldwide – up from less than one billion in 2000. According to the report, nearly five billion of these subscriptions are in developing countries.
Just under a decade ago, in 2003, only 61% of the world's population had cellphone signal. By 2010, says the report, that number had risen to 90%.
The report also shows an upward trend in terms of multiple subscriptions – an indication that the number of mobile phones in the world may one day overtake the number of human beings.
Tim Kelly, lead ICT policy specialist at the World Bank, says the mobile revolution has only just begun. “[It] is right at the start of its growth curve. Mobile devices are becoming cheaper and more powerful, while networks are doubling in bandwidth roughly every 18 months and expanding into rural areas.”
Rachel Kyte, World Bank vice-president for sustainable, says with so many of the world's mobile subscriptions being in developing countries, mobile communications offer major opportunities to advance human and economic development, “from providing basic access to health information, to making cash payments, spurring job creation and stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes”.
The report, the third in the World Bank's series on ICT for Development, reveals more than 30 billion mobile applications were downloaded in 2011. “[Apps] extend the capabilities of phones; for instance to become mobile wallets, navigational aids or price comparison tools. In developing countries, citizens are increasingly using mobile phones to create new livelihoods and enhance their lifestyles, while governments are using them to improve service delivery and citizen feedback mechanisms.
“The challenge now is to enable people, businesses, and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally-relevant mobile applications so they can take full advantage of these opportunities.”
Kelly says Kenya is a case in point as to how developing countries are taking advantage of the mobile revolution. He notes that the East African country has emerged as a leading player in mobile for development, largely due to the success of the M-Pesa mobile payment ecosystem. He cites an example in Kenya's capital city, Nairobi, which houses AkiraChix, a company that provides networking and training for women technologists.