The International Telecommunication Union
, which is taking part in the Mobile World Congress
in Barcelona this week, has released a report predicting that total global mobile cellular subscriptions will reach 5 billion this year, up from about 4.6 billion at the end of 2009.
The report finds that adoption of mobile devices and services is particularly strong in developing countries, where it is being driven by availability of mobile health services and mobile banking.
Many developing countries lack decent fixed infrastructure for telecommunications. As a result, growth and adoption of mobile communications has accelerated: In many areas of the world, wireless networks are the only way to gain access to the Internet.
'Even during an economic crisis, we have seen no drop in the demand for communications services,' ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré said in a release
. '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.'
The really hot area for growth is mobile broadband -- as opposed to basic cellular (i.e. voice only) services. The ITU predicts that mobile broadband subscriptions -- which connect mobile users to the Internet -- will exceed 1 billion globally in 2010, having already topped 600 million at the end of 2009.
According to the ITU, if growth rates for mobile and fixed broadband continue at their current rates, more people will access the Internet via smartphones and laptops than desktop computers within the next five years.
'Even the simplest, low-end mobile phone can do so much to improve healthcare in the developing world,' Dr. Touré said.. 'Good examples include sending reminder messages to patient’s phones when they have a medical appointment, or need a pre-natal check-up. Or using SMS messages to deliver instructions on when and how to take complex medication such as anti-retrovirals or vaccines. It’s such a simple thing to do, and yet it saves millions of dollars — and can help improve and even save the lives of millions of people.'
Mobile banking is also helping to drive adoption of mobile devices and services – even in developing countries where many people have never before had a bank account.
The ITU is the leading United Nations agency for information and communication technology issues. It is the global focal point for governments and the private sector in developing networks and services. For nearly 145 years, the ITU has coordinated the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoted international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, worked to improve telecommunication infrastructure in the developing world, established the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems and addressed the global challenges of our times, such as mitigating climate change and strengthening cybersecurity.
The ITU also organizes worldwide and regional exhibitions and forums, such as ITU TELECOM WORLD, bringing together the most influential representatives of government and the telecommunications and ICT industry to exchange ideas, knowledge and technology for the benefit of the global community, and in particular the developing world.