Two billion people to be online this year

A third of the world’s population will be online by the end of the year, according to a report from the International Telecommunications Union.

The number of internet users worldwide has doubled in the past five years, it says, and will top the two billion mark this year. Almost 1.6 billion people now have internet access at home, up from 1.4 billion in 2009.

162 million of the 226 million new internet users in 2010 will be from developing countries. By the end of 2010, 21 percent of people  in developing countries will be online, compared to 71 percent in developed countries.

While in developed countries two-thirds of people have access to the internet at home, only 13.5 percent do in developing countries – showing that internet access in schools, at work and in public locations is critical, says the ITU.

Broadband is the big catalyst for growth, it says.

“Broadband is the next tipping point, the next truly transformational technology. It can generate jobs, drive growth and productivity, and underpin long-term economic competitiveness,” says ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Touré.

“It is also the most powerful tool that we have at our disposal in our race to meet the Millennium Development Goals, the deadline for which is now just five years away.”

By the end of 2010, the ITU expects global fixed broadband penetration to reach eight percent. But penetration levels in developing countries are still low: 4.4 subscriptions per 100 people compared to 24.6 in developed countries.

Mobile telephony is becoming ubiquitous, says the report, with access  now available to over 90 percent of the global population. Again, most of the growth will come from the developing world. Subscriptions to IMT2000/3G services have increased from 72 million in 2005 to 940 million in 2010.

“Mobile phone penetration in developing countries now stands at 68 percent — higher than any other technology before,” said the director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, Sami Al Basheer.

“These countries have been innovative in adapting mobile technology to their particular needs and will be able to draw even greater benefits from broadband once adequate and affordable access is available.”