Key Trends in ICT Development

David A. Cieslikowski
Naomi J. Halewood
Kaoru Kimura
Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang
Publication Date
May 1, 2009

The World Bank

This document constitutes a chapter of a more extensive book, Information and Communications for Development 2009: Extending Reach and Increasing Impact, that analyses how information and communication technology (ICT) are impacting economic growth and improving governance. The second part of the book includes tables of data measuring ICT in 150 economies and describing the key trends in ICT development. "The present chapter uses the data from the [At-a-Glance (AAG)] tables to demonstrate the progress that many developing countries have made in recent years in improving ICT access, use, quality, affordability, trade, and applications, and to show how that progress relates to enabling policies and regulations." This publication was preceded by a 2006 report on the state and lessons learned from ICT access in a range of countries.

The largest increases in growth prior to 2008 have been in mobile telephony: "The proportion of mobile phone subscriptions in developing countries increased from about 30 percent of the world total in 2000 to more than 50 percent in 2004 - and to almost 70 percent in 2007." Reasons include: wireless technology can be deployed more quickly at lower costs to the consumer, resulting in strong customer demand; and fixed-line markets were slow to satisfy customers because of monopolies, often state-owned. "The introduction of competition in the mobile telephony market has often led to an immediate growth in voice services. Countries that have taken decisive steps to establish independent regulators and foster competition have seen notable improvements in sector performance. In some cases, the announcement of a plan to issue a new license has been effective in triggering growth, encouraging the existing mobile phone operator to improve service, reduce prices, and increase market penetration before the new entrant started operations."

While internet use has not increased as rapidly as mobile communication, it did triple worldwide between 2000 and 2007, while increasing tenfold in developing countries in the same period. However, penetration remains low and related to both geography and income. Demand for broadband is increasing because of the increased amounts of data being sent. Convergence of mobile telephony and the internet is occurring, enabling voice, data, and media services to be transmitted over the same network. "Such convergence could have an enormous impact on economic and social development - increasing productivity, lowering transaction costs, facilitating trade, and increasing retail sales and tax revenues....[I]n terms of international bandwidth per capita, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are still well behind other regions..." because broadband penetration is closely associated with per capita income.

The falling price of ICT access is used an indicator, including increased use of prepaid service rather than fixed monthly subscriptions, because it generally indicates both increases in users and in proliferation of access. Internet access prices are falling, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, though they remain higher than the world average by percent of average income (less than 1% in higher income economies, 62% of income in Africa, 12% in South Asia, and less than 9% in all other developing regions.)

Export of ICT goods and services in developing countries does not reflect levels of general availability and use of ICT, but some developing countries have already become key exporters of ICT goods and services. These include India, particularly, and Costa Rica, Guyana, the Republic of Yemen, Romania, and Senegal. The East Asia and Pacific Region were export leaders, especially the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and China (particularly Hong Kong).

Because, according to available data, many developing countries are still focused on physical implementation of ICT, they do not yet have the capacity to extend ICT to e-government usage for the advantages of the efficiency of ICT in daily workflows systems and networks and the transparency and accountability it offers. The document points to the economic advances possible in the e-commerce sector. However, its data show that: "In terms of advancement of e-commerce, developing countries have less than one-hundredth the number of secure servers as developed countries.... A secure, reliable business-enabling environment is a key element of successful e-commerce....Canada alone, with 30,200 secure servers, had more than all developing countries combined, with 28,399."

The document concludes that: "Countries that have taken steps to create a competitive market environment for ICT generally have a larger share of people using ICT services than those that have not...Among ICT services, voice communications, particularly mobile telephony, has led the way. Access to new services such as broadband remains limited in developing countries. Yet the expansion of broadband networks plays a catalytic role in the development of trade and e-government. In some developing countries, trade in ICT goods and services has sparked export-led growth and job creation. ICT applications are also transforming how governments deliver public services to citizens and businesses."

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The i-network website on July 2 2009.