Adoption of information and communications technology (ICT) continues to grow worldwide, fueled by steadily dropping costs of telephone and broadband Internet services, according to the International Telecommunications Union’s flagship “Measuring the Information Society 2012” report.

South Korea ranks as the world’s most advanced nation in terms of ICT economy, the ITU found. Four Nordic countries followed in the following order: Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland. Moreover eight of the world’s top ICT economies are in Europe. Two Asia-Pacific countries–Japan, along with South Korea—rounded out this year’s top 10.

2012’s top five ranked ICT economies are the same as those for 2010-2011, according to ITU’s report. The only new nation to break into the top 10 in 2012 was the UK, which moved up from 14th to 9th place from 2011 to 2012.

The top 30 ranked ICT economies are all in high-income countries, highlighting the link between income levels and ICT, ITU points out. ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI) ranks 155 countries according to their level of ICT access, use and skills, and compares 2010 and 2011 scores, a press release explains.

When it comes to ICT, there are big differences between developed and developing countries. IDI scores for developed countries are twice as high on average as those for developing countries. Those with the lowest IDI scores—so-called “Least Connected Countries”–are identified in the report, pointing them out for policy makers’ attention.

The ITU’s 2012 flagship ICT report also identifies those countries that have made the most progress on ICT development this year. Most are in the developing world, which indicates progress on closing the “digital divide.” Among these are Bahrain, Brazil, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, developing countries now account for most of worldwide growth in the mobile ICT market. Mobile cellular service subscriptions are growing fastest–at continuous double-digit rates–in developing country markets, ITU notes, where there were 6 billion mobile subscriptions as of year-end 2011. China and India account for one billion each.

Technologically, mobile broadband is growing fastest, rising 40% globally and 78% in developing countries in the past year. There are now two times as many mobile broadband subscriptions as there are fixed broadband subscriptions worldwide, the ITU notes.

Looking at ICT costs, ITU found that telecom and Internet services are becoming more affordable. Comparing costs across 161 economies by combining the average cost of fixed telephone, mobile cellular and fixed broadband Internet services, ICT services’ cost dropped 30% globally between 2008 and 2011, according to ITU’s ICT Price Basket (IPB). The cost of fixed broadband Internet services showed the biggest decrease, with average prices falling at double-digit rates globally.

Comparing costs among regions and countries, ITU found that ICT prices have stabilized in developed countries but continued to fall at double-digit rates in developing countries. Encouragingly, mobile broadband services have become more widely accessible in developing countries.

The cost of low-volume mobile broadband service packages in developing countries is now less than that for fixed broadband Internet services, according to the ITU. That’s expected to boost Internet use, which came in at 32% globally and 24% in developing countries as of end-2011.

Even with drops in costs, the cost of fixed broadband Internet services remains too expensive in most developing countries, the ITU says. The price of a basic, monthly fixed broadband package represented more than 40% of monthly gross income (GNI) per capita in developing countries. That compares to 1.7% in developed countries.

“The past year has seen continued and almost universal growth in ICT uptake. The surge in numbers of mobile-broadband subscriptions in developing countries has brought the Internet to a multitude of new users,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, which produces the annual report.

“But despite the downward trend, prices remain relatively high in many low-income countries. For mobile broadband to replicate the mobile-cellular miracle and bring more people from developing countries online, 3G network coverage has to be extended and prices have to go down even further.”

The ICT sector has become an economic growth engine with ongoing development and growth in the market globally, ITU’s report continues. Global exports of ICT goods made up 12% of world merchandise trade, and as much as 20% in developing countries in 2010.

Global revenues from telecom services totaled $1.5 trillion in 2010, 2.4% of global GDP. Telecom capital expenditures totaled more than $241 billion, an estimated 2% of the world total.

Developing country markets are driving ICT growth. Both telecom revenues and investment grew 22% in developing countries even over the course of the global recession between 2007 and 2010, ITU notes, “whereas revenues stagnated in developed countries.”

Nine of the top 20 telecom markets worldwide in terms of revenues were developing country markets as of end-2010. These include Brazil, China, India and Mexico, with developing countries as a whole accounting for 35% of global telecom revenue. Further gains could be made given higher levels of investment to further expand infrastructure, which remains limited, according to the ITU’s report.

“ITU’s Measuring the Information Society report is the most comprehensive statistical and analytical report on the shape of ICT markets worldwide. Our reputation as a wholly impartial and reliable source of ICT market statistics makes this report the annual industry benchmark for technology development,” noted ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré.

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