On Tuesday, the World Bank published a report which estimates that three quarters of the world population (or about 5.5 billion people) are equipped with mobile phones.
The number of worldwide subscriptions to mobile phones, packaged or prepaid, rose from less than 1 billion in 2000 to over 6 billion today, out of which almost 5 billion subscribers are from the developing countries, reports the institution. Having multiple subscriptions is becoming more common and it is now widely believed that the number of mobile phone subscriptions will soon exceed that of the human population.
The typical reaction to this kind of observation is to say that the poorest countries are most in need of food and water, utilities, and transportation, rather than a mobile phone. This is certainly true, but these phones can turn into a real survival tool and can also improve the living standards of these communities. In developing countries, people are increasingly using mobile phones to create new ways of earning a living and improving their living standards, while states use them to improve service delivery and consultation mechanisms of citizens, notes the World Bank.
InfoDev for example, is a project launched by the Finnish government and Nokia to create regional mobile innovation laboratories in Armenia, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa and Vietnam. One result of this initiative is the use of mobile social networks to organize meetings between fledgling entrepreneurs and other stakeholders.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, one of the creators of the Web, for his part has launched the World Wide Web Foundation to help the poorest in the world with free Internet technologies. One of his first projects is to empower African farmers to cultivate the necessary information to better improve their land and their crops. That is done using mobile enabled technology and a voice service which functions the same way we use similar devices on our computers and mobile phones.
The penetration rate of 75% estimated by the World Bank means that more people around the world have mobile phones than access to piped water (about 4.4 billion).