In a world with a total population of about 7 billion, cell phone subscriptions numbered about 6 billion at the end of 2011, according to a report from the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union (ITU). China and India account for about 1 billion subscribers each.
The report also ranks South Korea as the world's most advanced economy when measured on the basis of development of information and communication technology. Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland round out the top five. The U.S. ranks 15th.
Growth is fastest in mobile broadband services, up 40% worldwide and 78% in developing countries. The ITU claims that worldwide there are now twice as many mobile broadband subscribers as fixed-line broadband subscribers.
And the services are also getting cheaper. On a price basket that includes fixed-line phone services, mobile and fixed-line Internet services, costs are down 30% globally since 2008, with fixed-line Internet services down 75% in that time. Prices in developing countries are falling at double-digit rates, but fixed-line Internet services are still too expensive, eating up 40% of gross national income per capita compared with just 1.7% in developed countries.
Mobile broadband services are cheaper and more widely accessible in developing countries, where about 24% of the population now subscribes to a mobile service. In developed countries, 32% of Internet use is done on a mobile broadband connection.
Higher speed networks in developed countries for which carriers will be able to charge more will keep revenues up for providers like AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ). But the sweet spot is likely to be in developing countries, where cheaper phones and lower cost services will drive the growth of global mobile broadband services.
The ITU's announcement of the new report is available here.