Thursday, 29 October 2009

UNCTAD Information Economy Report 2009

See also Page 2 and Page 3 of my notes

The UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) Information Economy Report 2009 was launched last Thursday, 22nd October.

I was able to attend an event organised by the Centre for Development Informatics (CDI) in Manchester on Friday, at which Torbjörn Fredriksson of UNCTAD introduced the report, Richard Heeks of CDI presented a commentary and Brian Nicholson (also of CDI) chaired the meeting and discussion.

Here's some highlights that caught my attention.

The report divides the world up into three groups: Developed countries, Developing countries and 'Economies in Transition' (EIT). The first two are familiar, the third, EIT, consists mainly of former 'Eastern Block' countries in Europe - Croatia, Belarus, Azerbaijan etc.

The way in which that third group are 'in transition' is wonderfully displayed by the Figure 1.2 of the report (I've extracted this figure from Torbjörn's presentation - I hope no-one objects, but since it is available in the freely-downloadable report, I'm assuming they won't):

Global mobile telephone subscriptions by the main economy groupings, 2003-2008.

You can see from this that even in developing countries mobile subscriptions are rising rapidly, but that probably isn't news to anyone. There's been lots said about the uptake of mobile telephones in developing countries (including in some OU courses such as T324: Keeping Ahead in ICT) but this report - of course - explores it in depth.

The report is chock-full of statistics to get your head around - and to make up stories about. In the list of 'Twenty most dynamic economies in terms of increased mobile penetration, 2003-2008' (figure 1.4 of the report), no. 1 is Montenegro which now has 2.35 sim cards per person, which compares with 1.22 sim cards per person in the UK. There was some discussion at the presentation about why that (no. sim cards/person) is the measure used and what it means. Torbjörn explained that the reason it is used is simply that that is the measure available (I guess you know how many sim cards are sold and what the population is). Fair enough! Concerning its significance, one point made by a member of the audience was that network coverage and reliability may drive the need to have more than one card. You might need more than one sim card to increase your chance of getting access whenever and wherever you are. Maybe that is more of a problem in Montenegro than in the UK. (Torbjörn asked for a show of hands in the room, for who had more than one sim card. I'd say something like 60-70% of us put our hands up.)

Torbjörn talked about the way in which applications of mobile phones are being developed locally - in the developing countries themselves. This ties in with what Hannah Beardon discussed in the interviews that she recorded for the OU earlier this year.

Overall, the gap between the developed and developing countries in terms of access to a phone is decreasing, but in contrast the gap in terms of access to broadband is increasing. I'll say more about that another day.


Allan Jones said...

235 SIM cards per person? I don't believe that.

As for why people might have more than one card, in my case I have one for a mobile phone, which is perfectly adequate, and about 6 for mobile broadband providers because no single operator gives an adequate service. Cut-throat competition, which we're led to believe brings nothing but benefit, has led to poor rural services (as with public transport, and as we'll see with post).

David Chapman said...

Sorry, typo of course. Should be 2.35 per person (The report expressed it as '235 per 100 persons'.)

I've changed it.