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By John Lister
A United Nations study has found that the majority of people in the world now own a cellphone. The figure has topped 4.1 billion: 60 percent of the world’s population.
The figure has risen from just one billion as recently as 2007, driven mainly by rapid growth in developing nations; round two-thirds of the world’s cellphones are now found in such countries. The numbers come from the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency. It also noted that there are just 1.27 billion landlines in operation worldwide.
The cellphone statistic should put an end to the oft-quoted but un-sourced trivia note that “half of the world’s population has never made a telephone call”. That’s not to say those of us in developed nations don’t sometimes vastly over-estimate the reach of technology (particularly the Internet) throughout the world. The UN study found that just 23 percent of the world’s population accessed the internet last year. In Africa the proportion for 2008, where the study takes its figures, was just one in 20.
The study also put together a list of the most technology-enabled countries, topped by Sweden where 80 percent of homes have Internet-connected computers, the vast majority with broadband, and there are now more cellphones than people.
Aside from South Korea, in second place, the rest of the top ten was made up of European nations. The United States placed 17th, partially because it has a higher proportion of its population living in rural areas where communications technology is more expensive to provide. The good news for Americans is that the country has the second-cheapest communications costs (taking into account landlines, cellphones and internet access) in the world, higher only than Singapore. These costs aren’t taken as raw figures but as a proportion of average incomes.