More than 6bn of Earth’s population carries a mobile device – that’s 75pc of the world

18 Jul 2012

Some 6bn people on planet Earth have a mobile subscription, which includes 5bn people in developing countries, according to The World Bank. That means 75pc of people on the planet carry a mobile device.

When you consider most people have been carrying mobile devices for less than 15 years it is testament to the spread of the technology as a truly global phenomenon.

According to The World Bank report, the number of mobile subscriptions in use worldwide, both prepaid and post-paid, has grown from less than 1bn in 2000 to 6bn in 2012.

Ownership of multiple subscriptions is becoming increasingly common, suggesting that their number will soon exceed that of the human population.

New economic opportunities – entrepreneurs everywhere

The report claims that more than 30bn mobile apps were downloaded in 2011.

In developing countries citizens are using mobile phones to create new livelihoods and enhance their lifestyles while forward-thinking governments are using them to improve service delivery and as citizen feedback mechanisms.

“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,” said World Bank vice-president for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte. 

“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.”

The global mobile economy in action

In India, the state of Kerala’s mGovernment programme has deployed more than 20 applications and facilitated more than 3m interactions between the government and citizens since its launch in December 2010.

Kenya has emerged as a leading player in mobile for development, largely due to the success of the M-PESA mobile payment ecosystem. Nairobi-based AkiraChix, for example, provides networking and training for women technologists.

In Palestine, Souktel’s JobMatch service is helping young people find jobs. College graduates using the service reported a reduction in the time spent looking for employment from an average of 12 weeks to one week or less, and an increase in wages of up to 50pc.

“The mobile revolution 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,” said Tim Kelly, lead ICT policy specialist at the World Bank and one of the authors of the report.  

The report emphasises the role of governments in enabling mobile application development. It also highlights how mobile innovation labs – shared spaces for training developers and incubating start-ups – can help bring new apps to market. For instance, infoDev, in collaboration with the government of Finland and Nokia, has established five regional mobile innovation labs (mLabs) in Armenia, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, and Vietnam. infoDev is also using mobile social networking to bring grassroots entrepreneurs together with other stakeholders in mobile hubs (mHubs).

“Most businesses based around mobile app technology are at an early stage of development, but may hold enormous employment and economic potential, similar to that of the software industry in the 1980s and 1990s. Supporting the networking and incubation of entrepreneurs is essential to ensure that such potential is tapped,” said Valerie D’Costa, programme manager of infoDev.

Mobile planet image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years