By the end of 2010, there will be 2 billion Internet users worldwide, according to a report issued by the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency.
The report "The World in 2010: ICT facts and figures," released on Oct. 20, found the number of Internet users worldwide has doubled over the past five years, and estimated the Web-connected population will hit 2 billion by the end of this year. The United States Census Bureau pegs the world population at roughly 6.8 billion.
As expected, most of the growth came from developing countries.
Of the 226 million new Internet users in 2010, about 72 percent are from developing countries, according to the report.
The report highlighted significant regional differences: 65 percent of Europeans are online, compared with only 9.6 percent of Africans.
Currently, there are 1.6 billion people worldwide with Internet access, compared with 1.4 million in 2009. There is still room for more expansion, as only 21 percent of people in developing countries will be online by the end of 2010, compared with 71 percent in developed countries, researchers found.
Also as expected, the Internet gap between developing and developed countries remains very wide.
ITU's statisticians found that two-thirds of people have Internet access at home in developed countries, but only 13.5 percent could claim the same in developing countries. Internet access in schools, at work and in public locations are critical to get more people online, said the telecommunications group.
With the boom in rich-media content and applications online, broadband access will be critical to continued growth, the group said. ITU expects global fixed broadband penetration to be 8 percent by the end of 2010, but penetration levels in developing countries are very low. According to the report, there are mere 4.4 subscriptions per 100 people in developing countries, compared with 24.6 in developed countries.
"Broadband is the next tipping point, the next truly transformational technology. It can generate jobs, drive growth and productivity, and underpin long-term economic competitiveness," said ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Tour??Â«.
In comparison, mobile telephony is becoming ubiquitous, with over 90 percent of the global population having access to mobile phones, said the report. Growth is expected in the developing world, but unlike broadband, mobile penetration is high. Worldwide subscriptions for 3G and 3G-equivalent services exploded 13-fold from 72 million in 2005 to 940 million in 2010, the survey said. The number of countries offering these services also doubled from 2007 to 2010.
Mobile broadband has experienced "steep growth" over the past year, especially in Europe and the United States, the researchers wrote.
"Mobile phone penetration in developing countries now stands at 68 percent-higher than any other technology before," said the director of the ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau, Sami Al Basheer.
Mobile phones are not just for voice calls. ITU researches said the number of text messages is booming, with a staggering 6.1 trillion SMS messages sent in 2010.
ITU and the UN's UNESCO jointly launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to promote broadband-friendly policies worldwide. ITU is the main source of internationally comparable data and statistics on information and communication technology within the United Nation's system of agencies.