The International Telecommunications Union has released the 2009 edition of Measuring the Information Society – The ICT Development Index  (PDF, 1.53MB) which captures the level of advancement of ICTs in more than 150 countries worldwide and compares progress made between 2002 and 2007.

If you’re looking for measures of the digital divide, here’s hard data for you. One finding jumps to the eye: the rise in mobile cellular telephone subscriptions.

There has been a clear shift from fixed to mobile cellular telephony and by the end of 2008, there were over three times more mobile cellular subscriptions than fixed telephone lines globally. Two thirds of those are now in the developing world compared with less than half in 2002.

(from the ITU press release)

The charts speak louder.

Mobile telephony on the rise

(from Chapter 2 – ICT Market Overview, page 4)

About Internet penetration,  ITU estimates that 23 out of 100 inhabitants globally used the Internet at the end of 2008.  However, penetration is still low in developing countries (5% in Africa). Broadband penetration is even lower.

How many online? (Source: ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators database.)

How many online? (Source: ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators database.)

(from Chapter 2 – ICT Market Overview, page 5)

Is all lost? No. Read on:

Given the rapid spread of IMT-2000/3G mobile cellular networks in many countries, including in the developing world, there is a clear potential for mobile broadband to connect more and more people — and at higher speed.

Bold by the author of this post, who can’t help but wonder: is this the end of the Web as we know it?

Combine this prediction with the substantial persistence of the digital divide, and here the questions start to flurry:

  • How do we involve our audiences in the developing countries? Now this question takes on a completely different flavour.
  • How do we support the information management and connectivity needs of CG scientists? Do we start looking seriously into enterprise level systems that support mobile interfaces out of the box?
  • Do we start looking at publishing software that automatically convert to mobile-compatible displays?
  • How do we increase availability, accessibility and applicability of research outputs while the computer is losing its status as the main tool for the job?
  • What type of information product and system will be most impacted?
  • Do we gradually move from information formats that are substantially digitalised paper to  info nuggets that travel light?
  • Will the media influence the message? Mobile phones are for talking and short messages: how do we weave conversation into our communications?

Maybe nothing new under the sun, but the ITU data put these questions in a different light and give them new meaning.

What do you think?