South Korea has topped a global list ranking countries on their level of ICT access, use and skills, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
In its report released Thursday, the United Nations agency said this is the third time in a row that South Korea has come in first in the ICT Development Index (IDI). The Asian state has the highest percentage of households connected to the Internet at 67 percent, while both mobile broadband and fixed broadband penetration rates were at 84 percent to propel it to the top, it noted.
South Korea has also made ICT development a policy priority and integrated its use in many aspects of society. The Korea Communications Commission (KCC), in particular, had "effectively [regulated] a highly dynamic and competitive telecommunication market, and [pushed] forward innovations and improvements such as the deployment of LTE in 2011", the ITU noted.
As for the rest of the top 10, Europe dominated the list with Sweden ranked second, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Finland. Japan was the only other Asia-Pacific country in the top end, coming in eighth.
Large digital divide still
The top 30 countries in the IDI had been high-income countries, which highlights the link between income and ICT progress. The IDI values are on average twice as high in developed countries compared with developing ones, the ITU noted.
"Some barriers faced by developing countries include the cost of devices and connections, the low speed and quality of broadband connections, the limited availability of ICT services outside major urban areas, and more generally, inherent development challenges related to poverty and literacy level," the report said.
Developing countries, however, also made up the majority of those which have made the most progress in terms of ICT development, and Bahrain, Kazakhstan and Vietnam are some examples. This shows that many developing countries are catching up quickly to bridge the digital divide, the agency added.
3G prices, coverage needs to improve
Within the mobile sector, for instance, developing countries now account for the majority of market growth with cellular mobile subscription registering continuous double-digit growth. This helped boost the global total to 6 billion mobile subscriptions by end-2011, with China and India each accounting for some 1 billion subscriptions.
The growth of mobile broadband services was also a promising development as such services are now more widely accessible in developing countries.
"The surge in numbers of mobile broadband subscriptions in developing countries has brought the Internet to a multitude of new users. But despite the downward trend, prices remain relatively high in many low-income countries," Brahima Sanou, director of ITU's telecommunications development bureau, in the report.
"For mobile broadband to replicate the cellular mobile miracle and bring more people from developing countries online, 3G network coverage has to be extended and prices have to go down even further,” Sanou stated.