The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has said the international use of the wireless spectrum will need to see a tenfold efficiency increase to cope with the huge growth in mobile broadband subscriptions.
The ITU – which is the part of the United Nations (UN), and responsible for promoting and developing global telecoms policy – said mobile broadband subscriptions already outnumber fixed line broadband subscriptions three to one. It added that by the end of this year there would be 2.1 billion mobile broadband subscriptions, with this number increasing by 30 percent every year to more than nine billion by the end of 2018.
The ITU also said that by 2017 mobile data traffic worldwide would reach levels 13 times higher than those seen in 2012, to 11.2 exabytes (11,744,051 terabytes) from today's level of 0.885 exabytes.
Its State of Broadband report said: "This strong growth in mobile data traffic is generating growing demand for mobile bandwidth and spectrum resources, which are in finite and fixed supply, necessitating an increase in spectrum efficiency by up to a factor of ten to accommodate the present growth in demand."
It added that the ITU was carrying out technical studies to see how this increase could be achieved.
Elsewhere, the ITU continues to highlight the still significant digital divide between the developing world and countries in developed continents such as Europe. ITU secretary general Hamadoun Touré highlighted that increased internet penetration is not just important for cultural development, but also for an enhanced society.
"While more and more people are coming online, over 90 percent of people in the world's 49 least developed countries remain totally unconnected," he said. "Internet – and particularly broadband internet – has become a key tool for social and economic development, and needs to be prioritised, even in the world's poorest nations.
"Technology combined with relevant content and services can help us bridge urgent development gaps in areas like health, education, environmental management and gender empowerment."
For the first time, the gender gap in internet access was also studied, with the ITU working towards gender equality in internet access by 2020, a problem which is especially pertinent in the developing world.
Globally there are 200 million fewer women with access to the internet than men, and the report warned that the slower uptake of the internet among women could see that gap rise to 350 million.
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