The number of mobile subscriptions in use worldwide, both pre-paid and post-paid, has grown from fewer than 1 billion in 2000 to over 6 billion today, of which nearly 5 billion in developing countries, according to a new report by the World Bank.
This kind of penetration means that the mobile industry is beginning to shift gear, to focus more on monetising how these devices are used, rather than previous models which focused simply on getting them into users hands.
The report also seems to suggest that the ownership of multiple subscriptions has become more common, and that mobile phones will soon exceed the human population in numbers.
More than 30 billion mobile apps were downloaded in 2011 – software that extends the capabilities of phones, for instance to become mobile wallets, navigational aids or price comparison tools. While smartphone ownership has reached 50% in the UK, in most developing nations feature phones remain dominant – but this is changing.
Already Chinese companies such as ZTE and Huawei are developing the next generation of low-cost smartphones, attempting to pry developing world buyers onto the more sophisticated platforms, where revenue can be garnered from mobile banking, commerce and app sales.
"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.
In developing countries, users are increasingly using mobile phones to enhance their lifestyles, while governments are using them to improve service delivery and citizen feedback mechanisms – especially important in countries such as India and where fixed line internet access remains low.
"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.
In India, the state of Kerala’s mGovernment program has deployed over 20 applications and facilitated more than 3 million interactions between the government and citizens since its launch in December 2010. Kenya, for example, has emerged as a leader in mobile payment systems, such as M-PESA.
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