Global Mobile Phone Users: A Decade of Changes

A global shift in predominance of mobile/cell phone ownership in the last decade has seen low-income countries reach near ubiquitous levels. Using 11 years of compiled census data from each country worldwide, Andrew Bastawrous, Iain Livingstone and I analysed the global picture of cell phone ownership and used density-equalizing cartograms to depict this change. This cartogram animation shows a decade of change in the use of mobile phones:

Cartogram animation of global mobile phone subscriptions between 2000 and 2011
(click for larger version)


There are reportedly over 5 billion wireless subscribers; over 70% of them reside in low- and middle- income countries and over 85% of the world’s population has wireless signal cover. Statistical analysis can be used to interpret and give meaning to data, however, the ability to interpret large quantities of data and it’s resulting statistical reporting is not always straightforward. Graphical representations such as graphs and maps are a way of translating or converting data in to a visual interpretation. In our analysis published in the Journal of Mobile Technology in Medicine we created global cartographic representations of the shifting landscape of mobile phone ownership in order to better understand the use of mobile and wireless technologies to support the achievement of health objectives
The following two maps showing the absolute increases in the period between 2001-2006 (shown in the bottom map below) and 2006-2011 (shown in the top map) shows, how the growth in mobile phone use slowly shifts away from the wealthy world towards the emerging and also developing countries where these technologies have a crucial role in connecting people in areas where broadband access and landlines are much harder to get access to:

Cartograms of the increase in mobile phone subscriptions between 2001 and 2011
(click for larger version)

In our paper, we conclude that while earliest available mobile phones were only available to the wealthy, the rapid expansion of mobile phone operators and handset providers coupled with improved technology at increasingly affordable prices has meant that basic handsets are available to the majority. In the decade near ubiquity has been reached in adult populations in high-income regions (shifting the markets where handset manufacturers still see a steady growth towards the emerging economies).
Mobile phone technology has narrowed the gap between high and middle/low-income countries like no preceding technological advance. Low-income countries in which no fixed-line technology was available have leapfrogged straight to mobile communication. Related to healthcare, this means that the evolution of mobile phone technology has introduced new possibilities to the field of medicine. Combining technological advances with medical expertise has led to the use of mobile phones in all healthcare areas including diagnostics, telemedicine and research.

Read the full paper here:

  • Bastawrous, A., Hennig, B. and Livingstone, I. (2013). mHealth Possibilities in a Changing World. Distribution of Global Cell Phone Subscriptions. Journal of Mobile Technology in Medicine 2 (1): 22-25.
    pdf icon Article as PDF; Article online (JMTM)

The content on this page has been created by Benjamin Hennig in collaboration with Andrew Bastawrous and Iain Livingstone using World Bank data. Please contact me for further details on the terms of use.

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