About 26 percent of the world's population were online at the end of 2009, and mobile telephony is booming with the number of mobile subscribers likely to reach the 5 billion mark this year, according to a report released Tuesday by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The number of Internet users has doubled between 2003 to 2009, according to the report.
While the evolution of the ICT (information and communications technology) sector has been impressive, many people are still missing out on the benefits of an information society, Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, director of the ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau, told reporters on Tuesday at an ITU conference in Hyderabad in south India.
Over 80 percent of people in developing countries still do not have access to the Internet, let alone through broadband access, said Susan Teltscher, head of the bureau's market information and statistics division.
In the developed world, almost 60 per cent of households had Internet access, compared to only 12 per cent in the developing world, according to the report.
Penetration of fixed broadband in developing countries was far lower, at about 3.5 percent at the end of 2009. More public Internet access facilities will be required in the developing world to make up for patchy access at home, work or schools, Teltscher said.
A large part of the growth in communications in developing countries is however coming primarily from China and India. Although developing countries have more mobile subscriptions than developed countries, more than one-third of mobile subscribers are in China and India, Teltscher said.
China has also made good progress in the area of fixed broadband, and currently accounts for half of broadband subscriptions in developing countries, she said.
The report is a mid-term review of the progress made in creating a global information society by 2015, a commitment that governments agreed upon at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in 2003 and later in Tunis in 2005.
Besides connectivity, there is also a clear divide between content and languages, Teltscher said. Over 50 percent of the content on the Internet is in a few languages, mainly English, she said.
With more than half of Internet users speaking languages written with non-Latin scripts, the recent opening up of Internet domain names to non-Latin script characters is an important development, ITU said.
On a positive note, the report said that mobile cellular networks already cover close to 90 per cent of the world population, and the ITU expects coverage to reach 100 per cent by 2015. The ITU is confident that by 2015 more than half of the world's population will be using a mobile telephone, Al Basheer Al Morshid said in his preface to the report.
The report finds that the WSIS target for broadcast has largely been achieved as the entire world is now covered by terrestrial or satellite radio and TV. The WSIS target addresses the need to take advantage of broadcasting technologies to help countries move towards the information society.
By the end of 2009, there were some 1.4 billion households with a TV around the world, providing some five billion people access to a TV at home. This corresponds to a household TV penetration rate of 79 per cent, up from 73 per cent in 2002, the report said. Penetration in Africa is however still low with 28 percent of households owning a TV.