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Cell phone subscriptions to hit 5 billion globally

The number of mobile phone subscriptions worldwide reached 4.6 billion last year and is expected to hit 5 billion this year, says the International Telecommunication Union.

On a planet with around 6.8 billion people, we're likely to see 5 billion cell phone subscriptions this year.

Reaching 4.6 billion at the end of 2009, the number of cell phone subscriptions across the globe will hit 5 billion sometime in 2010, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The explosion in cell phone use has been driven not only by developed countries, but by developing nations hungry for services like mobile banking and health care.

"Even during an economic crisis, we have seen no drop in the demand for communications services," said ITU Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun Toure at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, "and I am confident that we will continue to see a rapid uptake in mobile cellular services in particular in 2010, with many more people using their phones to access the Internet."

Along with the surge in cell phones, demand for mobile access to the Internet has skyrocketed. The ITU expects the number of mobile broadband subscriptions to surpass 1 billion around the world this year, a leap from 600 million at the end of 2009. The organization predicts that within the next five years, more people will hop onto the Web from laptops and mobile gadgets than from desktop computers.

People in developing countries are increasingly using their cell phones for mobile banking, even those who have no bank accounts. But it's in the area of health care that cell phones have made a difference in developing regions, believes the ITU.

"Even the simplest, low-end mobile phone can do so much to improve health care in the developing world," said Toure. "Good examples include sending reminder messages to patients' phones when they have a medical appointment, or need a prenatal check-up. Or using SMS messages to deliver instructions on when and how to take complex medication such as anti-retrovirals or vaccines. It's such a simple thing to do, and yet it saves millions of dollars--and can help improve and even save the lives of millions of people."