A United Nations report released today projects that by the end of the year, 40 per cent of the world's population - 2.7 billion people - will be online, as mobile broadband has become the fastest growing segment of the global information and communication technology (ICT) market.
The annual report of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) also estimates that by the end of 2013, there will be some 6.8 billion mobile-cellular subscription - almost as many as there are people on the planet.
While speeds and prices vary widely within and across regions, the report shows that broadband pricings in more than 160 countries over the past four years fell by 82 per cent overall, from 115 per cent of average monthly income per capita in 2008 to 22 per cent in 2012. In addition, mobile broadband has become more affordable than fixed broadband, making this a more popular form of connectivity.
The ITU also released its ICT Development Index (IDI), which ranks 157 countries according to their level of ICT access, use and skills. The Republic of Korea (ROK) topped the list for the third year in a row, followed closely by Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Norway.
The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Hong Kong (China) also rank in the top 10, with the UK nudging into the top 10 group from 11th position last year.
In terms of broadband pricing, Austria has the world's most affordable mobile broadband, while São Tomé and Príncipe, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have the least affordable.
"This year's IDI figures show much reason for optimism, with governments clearly prioritizing ICTs as a major lever of socio-economic growth, resulting in better access and lower prices," said ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré.
In spite of remarkable progress, the report notes that there are large differences between developed and developing countries, making evident the link between income and ICT progress. The so-called Least Connected Countries are home to a third of the world's total population, who could greatly benefit from access to and use of ICTs in areas such as health, education and employment.
"Our most pressing challenge is to identify ways to enable those countries which are still struggling to connect their populations to deploy the networks and services that will help lift them out of poverty," Mr. Touré said.
This year the report developed a new model to estimate the size of the 'digital native' population, who are defined as "15-24 years [old] with five or more years of online experience." About 30 per cent of the world's young people fall into this category.
However, there are still notable differences between developed and developing countries. In developed countries, 86 per cent of young people - 145 million young Internet users - are digital natives. In contrast, of the 503 million young Internet users in developing countries, less than half are considered digital natives. This is expected will rapidly change as the ITU forecasts that the amount of digital natives in developing countries will more than double in the next five years.
"Young people are the most enthusiastic adopters and users of ICTs. They are the ones who will shape the direction of our industry in the coming decades, and their voice needs to be heard," said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau.