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M WORLD: Where we are

Compare the spread of mobile phones to the dispersion of other technologies and the sheer force of the momentum becomes clear.

By Rajesh Chandy and Kamalini Ramdas . 29 April 2013

What is unique about mobile technology is that it has achieved unprecedented penetration. Compare the spread of mobile phones to the dispersion of other technologies and the sheer force of the momentum becomes clear.



M World

In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell enjoyed the first two-way telephone conversation. By 1961 there were 100 million subscribers to fixed line phones. The first commercial mobile phone services were launched in 1978. In 2002 there were more than one billion mobile phone subscribers – surpassing the number of fixed line subscribers.


As of 2012, 85 per cent of Americans had a mobile phone. In contrast, 58 per cent have a desktop computer; 61 per cent a laptop computer; 18 per cent an ebook reader; and 18 per cent a tablet computer. 


Historically, a technology that reaches saturation in rich countries still spreads through the developing world only in correlation to each country's state of development. In 1963, researchers famously mapped the GDP of nations against their "teledensity", the prevalence of landline telephones. The data showed just this effect, which is known as the Jipp Curve. 


The mobile phone, however, is a landmark: over the last decade, the correlation between wealth and teledensity has been completely transformed. 


According to the International Telecommunications Union, in 2001 the developed world had six times as many mobile subscriptions per capita as the developing world. By 2011, that gap had collapsed to just 50 per cent more phones per capita, and it continues to narrow substantially. Of the world's six billion mobile phone subscriptions, 73 per cent are now in the developing world, even though those countries account for just 20 per cent of the world's GDP.

 

Part of the M World Special Report in association with the Vodafone Foundation.

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