Phones on display at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, February 15 2010. The GSMA Mobile World Congress, representing the interests of the worldwide mobile communications industry, is taking place from February 15 to 18.
Global demand for mobile telephones remains strong, despite the economic crisis, with the number of individual mobile cellular subscriptions likely to top five billion in 2010, the head of the United Nations telecoms agency said on February 15.
Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), told an industry congress in Barcelona that advanced services and handsets in affluent countries and increased take-up of mobile banking and mobile health-care services in poorer nations is driving the continued demand.
"Even during an economic crisis, we have seen no drop in the demand for communications services," Touré said, according to the UN News Service. "I am confident that we will continue to see a rapid uptake in mobile cellular services in particular in 2010, with many more people using their phones to access the internet."
The number of mobile cellular subscriptions had already reached 4.6 billion by the end of last year, and the ITU said it expects growth to be strong across all regions.
The agency also predicted that, if current growth rates continue, within five years web access by people on the move – such as from laptop computers and so-called smart mobile devices – will exceed web access from desktop computers.
"Even the simplest, low-end mobile phone can do so much to improve health care in the developing world," Touré said. "Good examples include sending reminder messages to patients' phones when they have a medical appointment or need a pre-natal check-up. Or using SMS messages to deliver instructions on when and how to take complex medication such as anti-retrovirals or vaccines.
"It's such a simple thing to do, and yet it saves millions of dollars and can help improve and even save the lives of millions of people."
In the developing world, the ITU noted, there are also large numbers of people who have a mobile phone subscription but no bank account and use their phones for banking activities.