GENEVA – Largely because of the mobile phone boom in developing countries, telephone service has quadrupled in the past decade to 4 billion lines worldwide, according to a report Tuesday from the U.N. telecommunications agency.
The International Telecommunications Union counts 1.27 billion fixed lines and 2.68 billion mobile accounts. The total number of people represented by those figures is unclear because many people, particularly in industrial countries, have both kinds of service.
The increase has been especially strong in developing countries that have been able to provide cellular phone service to tens of millions of people much more cheaply than having to wire up homes and offices for fixed-line telephones.
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As a result, 61 percent of the world's mobile subscribers are in developing countries, the ITU said. China and India, for example, together added almost 200 million mobile subscribers to the global total in the first three months of this year.
In 1996 there were fewer than 1 billion fixed-line and mobile phone subscribers altogether. Fixed-line subscriptions have grown slowly since then, but mobile has taken off, showing "spectacular success," said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, one of the report's authors.
The report also said more than 1 billion people in the world use the Internet.
Although the least developed countries lag in telecom service, growth is picking up in Africa, thanks to advances in technology that enable broadband connections over mobile phones.
Improved access is also coming in what the telecommunications industry calls "next-generation networks" — using either fixed or mobile connections to offer services including television and inexpensive voice-over-Internet long-distance. But the report said countries may need to change their regulatory requirements if the benefits of newer networks are to be realized.
"In many countries, licensing practices would prohibit operators from offering a popular `triple play' of voice, broadband and (Internet-based TV)," said Susan Schorr, chief author of the report.