UK breaks into ITU’s top 10 for ICT development

UK takes eighth place in International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU’s) league table for ICT deployments and adoption

The UK has made its way into the top 10 of the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU’s) league table for its achievements when it comes to ICT deployments and adoption.

The ICT Development Index (IDI) from the United Nations agency uses 11 indicators to judge the level of ICT access, use and skills of 157 countries and comes up with a benchmark score for each nation.

The UK had been sitting just outside the top 10, in 11th place, but this year managed to rise up the ranks to eighth, pushing both Luxembourg and Hong Kong down a place.

The Republic of Korea remained the leader of the pack for the third year in a row, with the Nordic countries of Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Norway nipping at its heels.

All top 30 countries were defined as “high income” locations, showing the strong link between wealth and progress with ICT. But there were some positive signs in developing countries that were investing more into both mobile and fixed connections to improve access.

“This year’s IDI figures show much reason for optimism, with governments clearly prioritising ICT as a major lever of socio-economic growth, resulting in better access and lower prices,” said Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the ITU.

“Our most pressing challenge is to identify ways to enable those countries which are still struggling to connect their populations to deploy the networks and services that will help lift them out of poverty.”

Slow progress towards worldwide internet connectivity

The report showed there are now 2.7 billion people globally using the internet. As the ITU pointed out, however, this meant there was still a way to go to get universal connectivity.

“This means there are still 4.4 billion people who are not yet online,” read the report. “Priority attention needs to be given to the unconnected, and action needs to be taken to improve the accessibility and affordability of broadband internet services everywhere to usher in an inclusive information society.”

Mobile subscriptions almost equalled the world’s population at 6.8 billion. By the end of 2012, 50% of the world’s population was covered by a 3G connection, but this was something the ITU believed needed to grow to increase the availability of internet services.

Fixed broadband services were burgeoning too, but at a slower pace – around 10% annually, compared with 40% for mobile connections. This is mostly down to reduced growth in developed countries, whereas developing countries were putting significant investment into fibre networks.

The ITU still described the divide between the two as “substantial”, as while penetration will reach 10% globally this year, it will serve 27% of the population in developed countries compared with just 6% in developing countries.

Prices of fixed connections fell significantly in the past four years, dropping by 82%. But the price is still out of reach for many in developing countries and must drop further to make connections more ubiquitous.

ITU estimates that by end of 2013 almost 40% of the global population, and 31% of the population in developing countries, will be online in some form or another. However, it admitted its ambitious target of getting 60% online by 2015, including 50% of developing countries and 15% of the least developed countries, was unlikely to be reached.

“There is a real danger that while the world is transforming into an information society based on high-speed, always-on connections, there is no equal access to ICT for all,” concluded the report. “The main target groups of the MDGs [millennium development goals] and post-2015 development goals will have to be sought precisely among those 4.4 billion people who are not yet connected to the internet.

“People living outside major cities in developing countries are those for whom ICT can have the greatest development impact. The divide between those who are part of the global information society and those who are not is liable to deepen, as the latter are left behind and face little progress.”

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

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