MWC 2010: Five billion phone subscriptions by year end

The global economic downturn has had little or no effect on the spread of mobile phones to every corner of the planet, according to the UN.

mobile phones

A UN agency says mobile phone subscriptions will hit the five billion mark by the end of 2010.

The continued growth of smartphones in developed nations and the ongoing spread of mobile services in emerging nations would lead to a near-10 per cent rise in phone subscriptions this year, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

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"Even during an economic crisis, we have seen no drop in the demand for communications services," ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure said in a statement during this week's Mobile World Congress (MWC) industry showpiece event in Barcelona.

Aside from seeing mobile phone subscribers rise past five billion from last year's recorded level of 4.6 billion, Toure also said the number of mobile broadband subscriptions would rise by nearly 50 per cent in 2010 to exceed one billion subscribers worldwide.

"I am confident that we will continue to see a rapid uptake in mobile cellular services in particular in 2010, with many more people using their phones to access the internet," Toure said.

According to the ITU, uptake in the developing world had been driven by the increasing use of phones for mobile banking and health services. Just this week Vodafone launched a pair of new ultra-low cost handsets for developing markets, citing their ability to make mobile payments as a key appeal in the emerging markets they were launching into.

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Even more mundane features such as basic text messaging were proving highly useful as mobile infrastructures penetrated new markets and potentially proved life-saving.

"Even the simplest, low-end mobile phone can do so much to improve health care in the developing world," Toure said. "Good examples include sending reminder messages to patient's phones when they have a medical appointment... or using SMS messages to deliver instructions on when and how to take complex medication such as anti-retrovirals or vaccines."

Anyone looking for evidence of the growth of smartphones in developed countries, meanwhile, need only look at the sheer number of high-profile smartphones that have been unveiled at this year's MWC.

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