Almost half (46%) of the world’s people now have mobile phones, according to The Economist, citing research from GSMA, the international mobile carrier association. That’s 3.2 billion people who “have at least one active mobile phone” – compared to the mere 1-2.45 billion who use the Internet (the high end is from the ITU via Wikipedia). But they’re not two separate figures, since many people in developing countries access the Internet from their cellphones – many of them on feature phones (remember “flip phones”?), not smartphones. So the Internet is fast becoming first and foremost a mobile experience, especially when you add in access with tablets and other hand-held devices. The digital divide is narrowing as the means of access changes.
But the mobile ownership numbers look very different in the developed vs. developing countries. “Parts of the developed world are nearing saturation. In Japan, Britain and the Nordic countries, nine out of ten citizens are mobile subscribers,” according to The Economist, but only 39% of the people living in developing countries subscribe to a mobile service. For example, India’s “900 million mobile connections (second only to China’s) are in the hands of just 300m of its 1.2 billion people, the lowest proportion among big emerging economies, [though] the GSMA estimates that India’s mobile-subscriber base will grow by more than 50% in five years. China’s percentage is a little higher, at 43%. That’s expected to “reach 52% in 2017, mirroring the world as a whole.” And a Brazilian professor and Internet safety expert here at the Azerbaijan IGF told me that his country has more than 200 million mobile connections (more than one sim card per person). Though The Economist says the global mobile population of 3.2 billion can’t really grow past 4.7 billion, based on current network coverage levels, that’s a billion past half the world’s population – a whole lot of connected people, when we reflect on how many of them will be accessing the social Web – in all its various forms, not just Facebook – with those phones and when we add in how more and more youth in developed countries are accessing it with mobile devices and apps more than with computers. A global consciousness will soon be commonplace. See this about what that means for young Brazilian change agents.