This is the first year when more than half of the world’s population is online

This is the first year when more than half of the world’s population is online


  • 2019 is the first full year when more than half of the world is participating in the global digital economy.
  • The rate of people coming online is falling and more prominently in low-income countries.
  • Some reasons are the price of handsets, increasing risks of cyber threats, and saturation in developed economies.
Over 21.7 billion devices are connected to the Internet, more than 74,500 GB of data is being transferred every second, and — for the first time ever — more than half of the world is participating in the global digital economy.

2019 is the first full year when 51.2% of the world’s population — 3.9 billion people — are logging onto the Internet, according to the UN-backed Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.

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And while this marks a critical threshold, the growth rate of people coming online is slowing down.

The percentage of households connected to the internet globally only grew by 1.7% over the past year. In low-income countries, the increase was at a miniscule 0.8%.


Falling growth of internet penetration

Over a billion new mobile subscribers have come online since 2013, which represents an average annual growth rate of 4.2% over the past five years.

The problem is that the rate of growth is slowing down, according to the State of Broadband 2019 report.

One part of the story is that internet adoption is maturing in the developed parts of the world. But, the slow growth of penetration is more prominent at the bottom of the pyramid because the challenges in reaching those who are still offline are more significant in low-income nations.

Over the past five years, low-income countries only saw 4G coverage increase by 22% compared to 66% for lower-middle-income countries.

Internet is cheaper but not the devices

While the price of bandwidth fell considerably, devices are still not affordable. A key barrier to getting users online in low-income and middle-income countries is that handsets — smartphones and feature phones — are still expensive for the common man.

The report also pointed out how just being connected to the Internet is not a sufficient determinant of connectivity. Users who get the bare minimum speed of 256 kbps counted as ‘connected’ users but their online experience cannot be compared to users running on speeds of 100 mbps or more.

Deteriorating trust

Trust is technology is also deteriorating. Less than two thirds of the world’s population — 64% — has confidence in technology as a whole.

Even less — around 50% — are prepared to trust emerging technology like internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

The number of cybersecurity breaches and cyber attacks are also on the rise, especially from the IoT botnets. In 2018, IoT bot activity accounted by 78% of malware activity.

Reasons to grow

Fixed broadband and mobile broadband, both, have an economic impact. Overcoming obstacles to connectivity creates a multiplier effect which boosts GDP.

According to the report, an increase of 10% in fixed broadband penetration leads to a 0.8% increase in the GDP globally. Mobile broadband penetration is more effective, aiding the growth of GDP by 1.5%.

This is more evident in low-income economies. According to an ITU study, a 10% increase in mobile broadband penetration in Africa would result in a 2.5% increase of GDP per capita.