‘Mobile miracle’ continues to transform lives
in the world’s poorest nations
but those living in LDCs are still mostly
Istanbul, 13 May 2011 – People living in the poorest countries in the world are
benefiting from a ‘mobile cellular miracle’ which has seen access to voice and
simple data connectivity rise from an LDC average of 1.2% of the population to
almost 30% in just ten years, according to figures released by ITU at the LDC IV
conference this week.
This steep rise in
phone connectivity far exceeds the targets set out in the LDC III Brussels
Programme of Action, which called for average telephone density in LDCs to reach
5% by 2011.
and rapid spread of mobile cellular technology – which, in 2001, was still
considered the province of people in wealthy countries – has transformed the ICT
landscape in the world’s 48
UN-designated Least Developed Countries, bringing connectivity to almost 250 million
people in LDCs.
ITU’s latest analysis of strategies to boost ICT penetration and leverage this
to accelerate development in other economic and social sectors was also released
at the conference, in the form of two new reports: ICTs and
Telecommunications in Least Developed Countries and The Role of ICT in
Advancing Growth in Least Developed Countries.
ITU figures confirm
that while the number of fixed lines has barely risen in LDCs over the past
decade, reflecting global trends, mobile access has mushroomed, with cumulative
annual growth rates over the past five years of 42.6% in LDCs compared to just
7.1% in developed countries.
In 2009, only a tiny
handful of LDCs – Myanmar, Kiribati, Eritrea and Ethiopia
– still had mobile penetration below
the LDC III target of 5% – and that number is expected to shrink further by
But still far too few
Internet users in LDCs
The past decade has
also seen significant progress in getting people in LDCs online, with 2.5%
average Internet penetration by the end of 2010, compared to under 0.3% in 2001.
But that is nothing like enough, according to ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun
Touré, and remains well below the Brussels III target of 10%.
“People ask me if
Internet penetration is really such a high priority for people who, on a daily
basis, face a lack of safe drinking water, rising food prices, and a chronic
shortage of healthcare,” said Dr Touré. “My answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
Because the Internet – and especially broadband – is an extraordinary enabler
which has potential to massively expand the effective delivery of vital
services, such as healthcare and education. Nowhere is this more important than
in countries where people are chronically deprived of these services.”
In order to help
countries better exploit ICTs to drive development, ITU made five key
commitments to the conference which have been incorporated into the
Istanbul Programme of
Action for LDCs 2011-2020.
In brief, they cover:
- actions to increase the average phone density in
LDCs to 25 lines per 100 inhabitants and the number of Internet connections to
15 per 100 inhabitants by 2020.
a comprehensive capacity building and digital inclusion programme.
strategies to help LDCs maximize the selection and use of appropriate new
technologies, such as broadband, digital broadcasting and next-generation
Assistance in dealing with cybersecurity issues and strategies to build trust
and confidence in ICT networks.
Assistance in creating and maintaining a
propitious environment for LDC development through an enabling policy and
Expanded access to
ICTs is already bringing services such as mobile banking to tens of millions of
people in the developing world, giving them a level of financial power to manage
their lives which they have never before enjoyed.
“There are many
reasons to be optimistic,” said Dr Touré. “In the past two years alone we have
seen a remarkable surge in national and international bandwidth in developing
countries, with several new submarine cables being landed, and new advanced
technologies which can help affordably bridge the digital divide. Some of the
world’s most disadvantaged countries are already showing what can be achieved
with the right combination of political will and innovative public-private
The need to highlight
the importance of broadband, particularly at the national level, is the main
reason why ITU set up
the Broadband Commission for Digital Development last year, in partnership with UNESCO.
ways to get poorer nations connected to high-speed networks will be one focus of
ITU’s forthcoming Global Broadband Summit, which will take place in Geneva in
October this year, in conjunction with the
ITU Telecom 40th anniversary
Copies of ITU reports ICTs and Telecommunications in
Least Developed Countries and The Role of ICT in Advancing Growth in Least
Developed Countries can be freely downloaded at:
Photos from the LDC IV event can be downloaded at:
For more information, please contact:
Chief, Projects and Initiatives Department,
ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau
Head, New York Liaison Office,