According to a United Nations agency, the International Telecoms Union (ITU) the number of mobile phone subscriptions will outpace the total number of people on the planet in 2014. In some ways it's easy to see how this can easily be true, especially if you work for an organisation like the United Nations.
For example - and I don't work for the UN by the way - I carry two mobile phones when in work. I carry the one I pay a monthly subscription for that allows me to surf the net on 3G or WiFi if available, check my emails, count how many books I haven't sold, send and receive texts, navigate using GPS and Google maps, see how many pageviews I've had on the blog today - a 400% increase month on month right now, thank you - and apparently make phone calls. I only learned about that piece of capability the other day. What will they think of next?
The other phone, the one that follows me around all day allowing people to add stuff to my workload, well that's just a phone. Apparently it can surf the net using 3G only and check emails, but not mine nor my work account. And I don't think I'm allowed to surf the net anyway, which is good as the screen is too minuscule for practical purposes. I carry a local map book for navigation when out of the office. I suspect it's much the same for the employees of the United Nations, perhaps with a better specified work phone.
I've also got a few old Pay As You Go mobile phones stuffed in a drawer somewhere that are officially still capable of being used if only I'd load some credit on them. I doubt I'm unique in all of these features, I'm sure most of you are in a similar situation.
So when the ITU says that the number of mobile phone subscriptions will exceed the number of persons on the planet it's only relevant in a tangential way. It's important in that it indicates that methods of communication are spreading far and wide, along with the ability to access the internet - apart from those lumbered with my work phone - and they do provide some interesting facts in their report.
For example the highest density of mobile phone subscriptions per person isn't in the United States or even my household, but in an area now called the Commonwealth of Independent States, which those of us a bit long in the tooth used to think of as the Soviet Union before that split up. In a way it makes sense - that region is already well developed and it does cover a huge geographical area, so mobile phones are obviously a boon. I'm suspecting that the density of redundant PAYG phones languishing in drawers is lower there than in my house, but that's a guess.
Africa, on the other hand, has 63 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. I'm guessing that my house has a higher incidence of old PAYG in a drawer than the African average, too. Again, vast geographical areas to be spanned. According to ITU there's more work to be done, not just in Africa, but also in other areas that don't have the same amount of access to mobile technology as we do, apparently because 4.5 billion people, despite the amount of mobile phones sloshing around, are still offline. That's two thirds of the world population who don't have internet access and, again according to ITU, this means 'they are locked out of the world's biggest market.'
I'm a bit perplexed by that last statement, while acknowledging that it's essentially correct and much more numerically relevant than their other statement that implied every man and his dog had a mobile phone subscription. To be fair, they didn't mention the dog, but I expect that to be in the 2015 forecast. My issue is that as far as I'm aware many of those two thirds are struggling for adequate water supplies, enough food to eat and freedom from persecution in many cases. The way ITU phrases it, they are missing out on Amazon Prime, which may not be such a big deal in a drought amidst a war-torn region. Only guessing, Amazon Prime does appear to be good value if you buy a lot of stuff from Amazon.
Internet access, and mobile phones for that matter, aren't going to make a huge difference to many people right now in terms of 'access to the world's biggest market', but it will help enable them to gain access to knowledge, to improve literacy and, of course, to further communication.
And I guess we all could do with a bit more of that. And I'm not just talking about my work mobile phone, either.
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