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Global mobile subscribers approaching the number of people on the planet

The FCC is serious when it speaks of the exploding global demand for mobile bandwidth. A new report by the International Telecommunication Union says mobile device subscriptions will soon equal the number of people inhabiting the planet Earth.

In fact, subscribers will exceed 7 billion by early in 2014, the ITU said last week. More than half of all mobile subscriptions are now in Asia, which remains the powerhouse of market growth. By the end of 2013, overall mobile penetration rates will have reached 96 percent globally, 128 percent in the developed world and 89 percent in developing countries.

With penetration at over 100 percent in four of the six ITU world regions, mobile-cellular growth is already slowing substantially, with rates falling to their lowest levels ever in both the developed and developing worlds.

The ITU estimates that 2.7 billion people — or 39 percent of the world’s population — will be using the Internet by end of this year.

Internet access, however, will remain limited in the developing world, with only 31 percent of the population forecast to be online at the end of 2013, compared with 77 percent in the developed world. Europe will remain the world’s most connected region with 75 percent Internet penetration, largely outpacing Asia and the Pacific (32 percent) and Africa (16 percent).

Household Internet penetration, which the ITU said is often considered the most important measure of Internet access, continues to rise. By end 2013, the United Nation’s organization estimated that 41 percent of the world’s households would be connected to the Internet.

Over the past four years, household access has grown fastest in Africa, with an annual growth rate of 27 percent. But despite a positive general trend, 90 percent of the 1.1 billion households around the world that are still unconnected are in the developing world.

Fixed wireless and wired broadband service in the United States stands at about 85 percent, putting the U.S. in a ranking of 14th around the globe.

Speaking to government ministers gathered at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona last week, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré , the ITU Secretary-General, noted that two-thirds of the world’s population — some 4.5 billion people — are still offline.

“This means that two-thirds of the world’s people are still locked out of the world’s biggest and most valuable library,” he said. “Two-thirds of the world’s people are still refused access to the world’s biggest marketplace. And two-thirds of the world’s people are still denied the extraordinary opportunities now available to the other third. Mobile broadband is clearly going to be a vital part of the solution, and we must continue to mobilize to ensure that all the world’s people have affordable, equitable access to the Internet.”

The cost of fixed-broadband services, the ITU said, has dropped precipitously over the past five years — declining by 82 percent if measured as a share of GNI per capita. But in developing countries, residential fixed-broadband services remains expensive, accounting for just over 30 percent of average monthly GNI per capita — compared to 1.7 percent of average national income in wealthy countries.

More statistics and a range of comparative charts are available in the full World in 2013: ICT Facts and Figures report.