Internet to connect 2.7 billion people by end-2013: UN

Around 2.7 billion people – 40 per cent of the world's population would be connected to the internet by the end of 2013, the United Nations said on Monday.

The UN's International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said another 250 million people came online in 2012, but 4.4 billlion people remained unconnected.

Developing countries account for nearly 90 per cent of those people who remained unconnected.

There would be 6.8 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions - almost as many as there were people on the planet - by the end of the year, the ITU further added.

South Korea was placed at the top for information and communication (ICT) development for the third consecutive year, with  Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Norway, following close behind, the ITU's annual report said.

The Netherlands, the UK, Luxembourg and Hong Kong (China) also ranked high, while the UK made it to the top 10 from 11th position last year, according to the report.

The ITU's annual ICT Development Index ranks 157 countries on their ICT access, use and skills. The report went on to note that "mobile broadband is now more affordable than fixed broadband".

The report projects that by the end of 2013, there would be around 6.8 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions – almost as many as there are people on the planet.

While speeds and prices varied widely within and across regions, the report showed that broadband pricings in over 160 countries in the past four years shrunk 82 per cent overall, from 115 per cent of average monthly income per capita in 2008 to 22 per cent in 2012.

In terms of broadband pricing, Austria had the world's most affordable mobile broadband, while the broadband in São Tomé and Príncipe, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the least affordable.

According to ITU, secretary-general Hamadoun Toure, the figures this year showed much reason optimism, with governments clearly prioritising ICTs as a major lever of socio-economic growth, resulting in better access and lower prices.

The report noted that despite remarkable progress, there were large differences between developed and developing countries, making evident the link between income and ICT progress. The so-called Least Connected Countries were home to a third of the world's total population, who could greatly benefit from access to and use of ICTs in areas such as health, education and employment.

According to Toure, the ITU's most pressing challenge was to identify ways to enable those countries that were still struggling to connect their populations to deploy the networks and services that would help lift them out of poverty.