Mobile Phone and Internet Use Grows Robustly

The use of mobile telephones and the Internet continues to grow worldwide, and the two technologies are increasingly becoming integrated through advances like Internet-ready “smart” phones. In 2009, mobile phone subscriptions hit the 4.6 billion mark, doubling in less than four years.1 (See Figure 1.) Their use has increased worldwide at over 21 percent annually over the past five years, and subscriptions are projected to reach 5 billion in 2010.2 Internet use also grew to new levels—averaging 15 percent growth a year over the past five years—to reach almost 1.7 billion total users worldwide in 2009, about twice the usage rate in 2003.3 (See Figure 2.)

The global average of mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants is 67, nearly four times the figure in 2002 of 18 per 100.4 But this masks a wide variation: there were more than 100 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in industrial countries in 2009 but only 57 per 100 in developing countries.5 (See Figure 3.)

Sixty countries had more mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants than actual inhabitants in 2008, which can happen when consumers have more than one phone subscription.6 The United Arab Emirates leads the world in this category, with 209 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.7 Italy tops the list in Europe, with 152 per 100 inhabitants, and the United States is in the middle of the pack worldwide, with 87 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.8

The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization known around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Learn More