Global online population hits 3 billion: ITU

There are now more than 3 billion people online globally, with two-thirds of all people with internet access now living in the developing world, according to new research by the United Nations agency charged with improving the world's access to IT infrastructure.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

The world's online population has edged over more than 3 billion people, according to the United Nations' International Telecommunications Union (ITU), with internet usage globally growing at 6.6 percent in 2014.

ITU, an arm of the United Nations charged with allocating radio spectrum, developing technical standards, and improving the world's access to information and information technology, released its flagship annual Measuring the Information Society Report on November 24.

The latest data outlined in the report shows that internet usage continues to grow steadily, at 6.6 percent globally in 2014, with developed countries seeing 8.7 percent growth in internet usage and developing nations receiving 3.3 percent growth.

However, the research shows that the number of internet users in developing countries has doubled in the five years from 2009 to 2014, with two-thirds of all people online now living in the developing world.

Although the number of people connected to the internet globally has surpassed the 3 billion milestone, the ITU found that there are still more than 4.3 billion people not yet online, 90 percent of which live in developing countries.

In the world's 42 least-connected countries, which are home to 2.5 billion people, access to information and communications technology and infrastructure remains largely out of reach, particularly for the large rural populations found there, the organisation said.

Earlier this month, the ITU reiterated its plan to help bring a further 1.5 billion people online by 2020, as part of its "Connect 2020 Agenda for Global Telecommunication/ICT Development".

ITU secretary-general Dr Hamadoun I Touré said that IT and related technology has the potential to make the world a "much better place".

"In particular for those who are the poorest and the most disenfranchised, including women, youth, and those with disabilities," said Touré.

In the mobile phone segment, the report estimated that by the end of 2014 there will be 7 billion mobile subscriptions, roughly corresponding to the total global population.

However, it warned against the conclusion that everyone in the world is connected, with many users possessing multiple services, resulting in global growth figures that translate into little real improvement in the level of connectivity of those in the globe's least-connected regions.

The ITU estimates that 450 million people worldwide live in places that are still out of reach of mobile cellular service. Despite this, the ITU conceded that there has been substantial improvements in access to international bandwidth in poorer countries, with developing nations' share of total global international bandwidth rising from just 9 percent in 2004 to over 30 percent in 2014.

The report also ranked the world's countries according to its ICT Development Index, a composite measurement that ranks 166 countries according to their level of IT access, use, and skills.

Australia came in among the top 30 in the world, according to the ranking, along with New Zealand, Bahrain, Singapore, and the United States. Denmark topped the list, followed by South Korea.

The report comes as Telstra works to roll out data-only 4G coverage to 50 country towns around the nation by early next year, with Australia's largest telco deploying network-boosting "small cell" infrastructure — a technology more commonly used to boost coverage in suburban shopping centres.

"In some cases, this will be the first time residents will be able to access mobile broadband services," said Telstra's head of wireless network engineering Channa Seneviratne.

Meanwhile, Australia's national broadband builder NBN Co revealed last week that it had commenced construction on its one millionth premises.

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