Report: 75 percent of world has access to a mobile phone

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

Worldwide cellphone subscriptions have increased during the past decade from 1 billion in 2000 to more than 6 billion today, helping developing countries improve living standards dramatically and improving connectivity in rural areas.

The number of cellphone subscriptions will soon outstrip the human population because many individuals opt for multiple subscriptions, according to a report by the World Bank that explored the impact of mobile phone popularity on agriculture, health services and various aspects of government.

Approximately three-quarters of the world currently has access to a cellphone, according to the report. The most pronounced mobile phone use was in developed countries, where 5 billion mobile phone subscriptions were reported.

In fact, 97 percent of houses in both the Maldives and Jordan owned mobile phones in 2009, beating out the United States, where only 85 percent of households owned a cellphone.

“Mobile communications offer major opportunities to advance human and economic development – from providing basic access to health information to making cash payments, spurring job creation, and stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes,” World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte said in a press release. “The challenge now is to enable people, businesses, and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally-relevant mobile applications so they can take full advantage of these opportunities.”

More than 30 billion mobile applications, or “apps,” were downloaded in 2011, helping people in developing countries greatly improve their livelihood and allowing governments there to improve services.

For example, potato farmers in India who use mobile apps have seen their income increase by 19 percent. Likewise, grain traders in Nigeria and banana farmers in Uganda have enjoyed up to a 36 percent gain in income after adopting mobile technology.

“The mobile revolution is right at the start of its growth curve: mobile devices are becoming cheaper and more powerful while networks are doubling in bandwidth roughly every 18 months and expanding into rural areas,” Tim Kelly, a policy specialist at the World Bank and one of the report’s authors, said in a press release.

Governments should adopt policies that promote the expansion of wireless broadband networks and boost the adoption of wireless broadband services, the report added.

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