NEW DELHI: About 3.2 billion people are now online, representing 43.4% of the global population, while mobile-cellular subscriptions have reached almost 7.1 billion worldwide, with over 95% of the global population now covered by a mobile-cellular signal,” according to annual Measuring the Information Society Report from International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The report also notes that all 167 economies included in the ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI) improved their IDI values between 2010 and 2015 – meaning that levels of information and communication technology (ICT) access, use and skills continue to improve all around the world.
The Measuring the Information Society Report is widely recognized as the repository of the world’s most reliable and impartial global data and analysis on the state of global ICT development, and is extensively relied upon by governments, international organizations, development banks and private sector analysts worldwide.
“ICTs will be essential in meeting each and every one of the 17 newly-agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.
“And this report plays an important role in the SDG process. Without measurement and reporting, we cannot track the progress being made, and this is why ITU gathers data and publishes this important report each year,” said Zhao.
“ITU’s work in gathering and publishing statistics allows us to monitor the real progress being made in ICT development worldwide,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, which produces the report each year.
“Progress is encouraging in many areas but more needs to be done – especially in the world’s poorest and remotest regions, where ICTs can arguably make the biggest difference, and help bring people everywhere out of extreme poverty,” said Sanou.
Internet: more people online than ever before; but growth slows
By the end of this year, 46% of households globally will have Internet access at home, up from 44% last year and just 30% five years ago, in 2010. In the developed world, 81.3% of households now have home Internet access, compared to 34.1% in the developing world, and just 6.7% in the 48 UN-designated Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
Latest data show that growth in Internet use has slowed down, however, posting 6.9% global growth in 2015, after 7.4% growth in 2014. Nonetheless, the number of Internet users in developing countries has almost doubled in the past five years (2010-2015), with two thirds of all people online now living in the developing world.
Fastest growth continues to be seen in mobile broadband, with the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions worldwide having grown more than four-fold in five years, from 0.8 billion in 2010 to an estimated 3.5 billion in 2015. The number of fixed-broadband subscriptions has risen much more slowly, to an estimated 0.8 billion today.
Mobile-network coverage: reaching the last half billion
Over 95% of the global population is now covered by mobile-cellular services, meaning that there are still an estimated 350 million people worldwide who live in places which are still out of reach of a mobile network – a figure that has dropped from 450 million a year ago. But while 89% of the world’s urban population is now covered by a 3G network, only 29% of the world’s 3.4 billion people living in rural areas benefit from 3G coverage.
Predictions up to 2020
In 2014, the ITU membership adopted the Connect 2020 Agenda, which sets out a series of goals and targets for improvements in the growth and inclusiveness of ICTs, their sustainability, and the contribution of innovation and partnerships. The Measuring the Information Society report, for the first time, takes stock of where the world stands today in terms of these goals and targets, and makes estimates for their achievement by the year 2020.
The report notes that the proportion of households projected to have Internet access in 2020 will reach 56%, exceeding the Connect 2020 target of 55% worldwide. More needs to be done to increase the number of Internet users, however – the report predicts that only 53% of the global population will be online in 2020, significantly below the Connect 2020 target of 60%.
More action will also be needed to ensure that targets for growth and inclusiveness are not missed in developing countries, and in particular in LDCs. The Connect 2020 Agenda aims to ensure that at least 50% of households in developing countries and 15% of households in LDCs have access by 2020, but ITU estimates that only 45% of households in developing countries and 11% of LDC households will have Internet access by that date.
More affordable – but not universally affordable
The report notes that the price of mobile-cellular services continues to fall across the world. In LDCs, the mobile-cellular price basket continued to fall, coming down to 14% of gross national income per capita (GNI p.c.) by the end of 2014, compared to 29% in 2008.
The greatest decreases over the past year have been in mobile-broadband prices, which have made the service on average between 20% and 30% more affordable worldwide.
By early 2015, 111 economies (out of 160 with available data), including all of the world’s developed countries and 67 developing countries, had achieved the Broadband Commission for Digital Development’s target that the cost of broadband services should be no more than 5% of average monthly income. However, 22 developing countries still had broadband prices which corresponded to more than 20% of GNI p.c.
The report also notes that while tremendous progress has been in made in terms of mobile-broadband affordability, fixed-broadband prices increased between 2013 and 2014, after falling consistently for a number of years. In the LDCs in particular, fixed-broadband services remain unaffordable, and most of the countries ranked at the bottom of the fixed-broadband basket are LDCs. The 2014 average fixed-broadband basket corresponded to 98% of GNI p.c. in LDCs, up from 70% a year before, a sharp increase that will not improve the already very low uptake of fixed broadband in the world’s poorest countries.
ICT Development Index country rankings: widening gaps
In 2015, the Republic of Korea is ranked at the top of ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI)*, a composite measurement that ranks 167 countries according to their level of ICT access, use and skills. Republic of Korea is closely followed by Denmark and Iceland, in second and third place.
The IDI top 30 ranking includes countries from Europe and high-income nations from other regions including Australia, Bahrain, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Macao (China), New Zealand, Singapore and the United States. Almost all countries surveyed improved their IDI ranking this year.
Over the past five years, there has been a widening of the gap in IDI values between countries ranked in the middle and those towards the bottom of the distribution. In the LDCs, the IDI grew less compared to other developing countries and LDCs are falling behind in particular in the IDI ‘use’ sub-index, which could impact on their ability to derive development gains from ICTs.
The report identifies a group of ‘most dynamic countries’, which have recorded above-average improvements in their IDI rank over the past five years. These include (in order of greatest change in IDI ranking): Costa Rica, Bahrain, Lebanon, Ghana, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Suriname, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Oman.
IDI – Regional Comparisons
Average IDI values vary considerably between different regions.
In Africa, only one country, Mauritius, has an IDI value above the global average of 5.03, while three others (Seychelles, South Africa and Cape Verde) exceed the average value for developing countries of 4.12.
Altogether, 29 out of 37 African countries rank in the bottom quarter of the 2015 IDI, including the 11 countries with the lowest rankings of all, illustrating the importance of addressing the digital divide between Africa and other regions.
The average rise in IDI values in Africa between 2010 and 2015 was 0.65, lower than that in other regions in nominal terms, but from a lower base and therefore higher in proportion to the benchmark set in 2010. The most significant improvement was achieved by Ghana, which increased its IDI value by 1.92 points and rose 21 places in the global rankings. Other substantial improvements in the rankings were achieved by Lesotho, Cape Verde and Mali.
In the Americas, the United States, Canada and Barbados lead the IDI rankings, with IDI values above 7.50, and global rankings in the top thirty economies. These three countries significantly outperform all other countries in the region, with IDI levels approaching one whole point above the next highest regional performer, Uruguay. Some 29 of the region’s countries fall within the top half of the global rankings.
Countries in the Americas region have experienced some of the most significant movements up and down in global IDI rankings between 2010 and 2015. The most dynamic improvement worldwide was achieved by Costa Rica, which rose 23 places in the global rankings, while other substantial improvements were achieved by Suriname, Brazil, Barbados and Colombia. However, a number of countries, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, fell significantly, including Belize, Cuba, Grenada, Jamaica and St. Kitts and Nevis.
In the Arab States region, the top five countries in terms of ICT development – Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – are oil-rich high-income economies that are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). These countries all have IDI values over 6.50 and are among the top fifty countries in the global rankings. Three of them (Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia) are among the ten countries which have seen the most dynamic improvements in IDI rankings and values since 2010, as are two other countries in the region (Lebanon and Oman).
There is a growing disparity, however, between these high-performing countries and those lower down the distribution. While GCC countries improved their IDI values by 1.78 points between 2010 and 2015, the average improvement for non-GCC countries was 0.89 points, the global average. The strong performance of GCC countries reflects the association between IDI and national income levels.
Asia-Pacific is the most diverse region in terms of ICT development, reflecting stark differences in levels of economic development. Six economies in the region – including the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong (China) and Japan – have IDI rankings in the top twenty of the global distribution. However, the region also includes ten of the Index’s least connected countries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Countries throughout the region, and particularly middle-income countries, have shown considerable improvements in their IDI values between 2010 and 2015, however. The most dynamic improvements in IDI rankings in the region were achieved by Thailand, Mongolia and Bhutan, which rose by 18, 13 and 9 places, respectively, in the global rankings during the period. The average growth in value for the region was 0.85 points, just below the global average.
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region shows the least variation of any region between its highest and lowest performing countries, reflecting the region’s relative economic homogeneity. All countries in the region have rankings in the top half of the overall distribution.
The average increase of 1.43 points in IDI values in the region since 2010 is considerably above the global average of 0.89. Belarus, the highest-ranking country in the region, improved its performance by 1.88 points and 14 places, while Kyrgyzstan, the region’s lowest-ranking country, also showed considerable improvement, rising by 1.60 points and 15 places.
In Europe, all countries, with the exception of Albania, exceed the global average IDI value of 5.03, and fall within the top half of countries in the IDI ranking, reflecting the region’s high levels of economic development. The region’s average IDI value rose between 2010 and 2015 from 6.48 to 7.35, an increase of 0.87 points. This is a highly positive performance given that all but one country in the region was already in the upper half of the distribution in 2010. The Europe region also has a relatively narrow range between its maximum and minimum IDI values, reflecting relative ICT sector and general economic homogeneity.
Positions at the top of the regional rankings are mostly held by countries in northern and western Europe, in particular by Nordic countries; while lower rankings are concentrated around the Mediterranean and in eastern Europe. Denmark is the region’s top performer, with an IDI value of 8.88, just ahead of Iceland, with an IDI value of 8.86, while the greatest improvement in IDI rankings between 2010 and 2015 was achieved by the United Kingdom, which rose from tenth to fourth position globally.