World phone use statistics debunked

November 14, 2004 There's an oft-quoted statistic that half the world has still not made a telephone call. It might have been true less than a decade ago, but it isn't now.

The infamous statistic first appeared in print in late 1994, when the Toronto Sun quoted it as part of MCI executive Greg LeVert's speech at TeleCon '94. LeVert was making a projection based on phone penetration data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the statistic was not meant to be taken as gospel even back then. In context it was actually used to dramatise the magnitude of the coming telecommunications change.

"The ITU estimates that there were 689 million landlines in 1995 and a few more than 1 billion by 2001. This amounts to an average annual growth rate of slightly more than 7 percent. Put another way, half as many landlines were laid in the last six years of the 20th century as in the whole previous history of the world," Wired magazine reported in 2002. The current telecommunications boom, including mobile phones, would put world phone usage safely above the 50% mark.

If you really want a solid statistical analysis of current telecommunications usage, the International Telecommunication Union has recently released their 8th Edition World Telecommunications Indicators Database, which covers telephone network size and dimension, mobile services, quality of service, traffic, staff, tariffs, revenue and investment up to 2003.

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