Digital Divide: Global Household Penetration Rates for Technology

Beginning of the year is the time when I update various technology data I collect and publish. It is no secret that one of my passions is the spread of technologies into the Emerging World markets, across the so-called Digital Divide. Late last year we had some great updated numbers from the ITU [International Telecommunication Union] about household penetration rates for such technologies as TV sets, PCs and internet use. I have plugged those numbers into my model with many other fresh data elements from sources such as the World Bank, UN, and various national regulators like Ofcom in the UK. I am happy to be able to share some very interesting numbers, not just of how many actual devices are in use, but also what is the reach of those devices.

The Industrialized World i.e. what often is called ‘the West’ i.e. Europe, USA and Canada, Oceania and the advanced countries of Asia i.e. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong etc. have a combined population of about 1.2 Billion people [17% of the planet’s total population of 6.9 Billion], living in 480 million households. That means we have a household density of 2.5 people per household, on average.

Global Digital Divide. Source: United Nations, Global Development / Goals Indicators
Global Digital Divide. Source: United Nations

Across the digital divide there are 5.7 Billion people [83%], who live in the ‘Emerging World’ countries of Latin America, Africa and less-affluent parts of Asia, such as China, India, and Indonesia etc. These countries were recently called ‘Developing World’ countries, but that term is no longer preferred. The older more colonial and more offensive terms that were used, include ‘Third World’ and ‘Underdeveloped’ or ‘Undeveloped’ countries. Please if you do refer to these numbers, remember to use the preferred term now, of Emerging World countries. There are 1.32 Billion households, giving a density of 4.3 people per household. It should be noted immediately from the beginning, that 370 million of those households are without electricity, so about 28% of the households in the Emerging World markets, are for all practical purposes unable to adopt any technologies at all. 1.6 Billion People on the planet [23% of the total population worldwide] lives beyond the reach of electricity.

In the Industrialized World we have 630 million TV sets, and 98% of our households have at least one TV set, i.e. 470 million homes have television. Of those that have TV, 34% own 2 or more TV sets. When we measure the audience, we find that in the Industrialized World the total TV audience is 1.05 Billion people [88% of all who live here].

Evolution of TV

Evolution of TV

Across the Digital Divide, in the Emerging World, there are 970 million TV sets in 950 million households. 73% of all households have at least one TV set and of those that do, 2% have 2 or more TV sets. The audience who watch TV in the Emerging World is 3.15 Billion people.

When we add the numbers together for the whole world, we find that 89% of all households worldwide have television [to me, that is an astonishingly large number but it’s clearly true by all counts]. Those 1.42 Billion households have 1.6 Billion TV sets in use, serving a viewing audience of 4.2 Billion people [61% of the total population of the planet].

While we are on TV, let’s look at cable TV and satellite TV, two most popular pay-TV side of television. In the Industrialized World, out of all households with TV, 64% have pay-TV with an audience of 670 million. In the Emerging World that drops to 35% of TV households, serving an audience of 55%. Across the planet, 50% of all households have cable TV or satellite TV, with a total paid subscription base of 900 million, reaching a viewing audience of 2.6 Billion people.

Examining the other big broadcast medium, radio yields interesting results. In the Industrialized World, there are 2.2 radio receivers per capita, so we have 2.6 Billion radio receivers across 480 million households and radio penetration is 100% of all households. There are on average 5.4 radio receivers per household in the Industrialized World [and remember, the radio in your car counts as one of these]. The reach of radio is all people of radio-listening age and ability i.e. 1.06 Billion.

In the Industrialized World, radio has reached all households with electricity but the number of radio receivers is not that great, with only 1.5 radios per household and 0.2 radios per capita. At 1.4 Billion radio receivers, in the Industrialized World radio will reach an audience of 3.14 Billion listeners.

Worldwide we have 4 Billion radio receivers, in 1.43 Billion households, and the global radio audience reach is 4.2 Billion. Note that this is now the same as TV [it used to be that radio reached a bigger audience in the Emerging World but TV has caught up now].

Then let’s move from broadcast media to computers. The PC penetration in the Industrialized World households is now 71%, or 340 million PC households. They are used by 600 million people. In the Emerging World countries PC penetration is 23% of all households, 300 million of them. They have 800 million users. Worldwide we have 640 million PCs in households, used by 1.4 Billion people.

Not all of those PCs are connected to the internet, not even in the Industrialized World countries yet where 93% do connect to the internet and thus 7% are still without an internet connection. But 315 households in the Industrialized World have both a PC and an internet connection and they help connect 415 million home PC based users to the internet.

Across the Digital Divide, only 70% of homes with PCs connect to the internet, so there are 210 million internet-connected households who have 485 million PC-based users accessing the internet.

Worldwide, we find 525 million households that have PCs which also are connected to the internet. Their total internet user base is 900 million people who access the internet from a PC at home [and remember people also access the internet from internet cafes and increasingly from mobile phones].

Evolution of Telephone. Picture Credit: Kathy KonkleBefore we look at mobile phones, lets count those older types of phones, the fixed landline telephones. In the Industrialized World the number of telephones is in decline and we now have only 330 million households left [69% of households], that still have at least one telephone. Of those who still pay a fixed landline telephone bill, 25% have two phone lines at home. The population that can be reached by calling the landline [and hoping someone might answer] is 825 million people or 69% of the population in the wealthier nations of the planet.

In the Emerging World countries 680 million households have landline phones [52% of all households] and 5% of those have more than one line. The population in the less-affluent countries, that can be reached using a landline phone, is 2.9 Billion people.

When we add these together, we find the planet has 1.1 Billion total fixed landline phones, in 1 Billion households [56% of all households] and reach 3.7 Billion people.

Here the math gets a bit tricky. If we count actual mobile phone handsets connected and in use, we get one number. If we count mobile phone subscriptions we get another number. If we count unique mobile phone subscribers we get yet another number, and the math is even more fuddled by some of the poorest people, where families do not have a landline phone and cannot afford phones for all family members so they use one mobile phone as a family phone.
In the Industrialized World countries, 96% of households have at least one mobile phone account. For the 1.2 Billion people living there are 1.3 Billion actual mobile phone handsets with 1.6 Billion total active subscriptions. For those homes that have at least one mobile phone, the average number of phones per active mobile phone household is 2.7. The phones are not shared, so the total population that can be reached using a mobile phone is 1.05 Billion [88% of the population].
In the Emerging World, 59% of households have at least one mobile phone, and the total number of mobile phone handsets is 2.9 Billion, so there is an active phone already for 51% of the population living there. In the poorest regions [often beyond electricity] about 200 million households have one mobile phone shared as the family phone. Thus the total reach of 3.35 Billion [59%].
When we add those numbers together, we find households that have at least one mobile phone, number 1.25 Billion, and they have a total of 4.2 Billion connected mobile phones in use including those people who carry two phones. The reach of mobile phones is 4.4 Billion which includes those poor households where mobile phones are shared.

Time has come to compare the major technologies and how they are able to reach us. Not how many devices are in use [mobile utterly dominates that] but the actual audience or real reach. Of these five, the smallest is the home PC use of the internet, which has 900 million household users.
The second smallest technology by reach is the personal computer, which in households has 1.4 Billion active users. Again remember there are also PCs at work and at schools and universities which are also used, so this is not the ceiling, this is home use of personal computers.
Next come the four giants; fixed landline telephone is the first of the giants, reaching 3.8 Billion people. Then come radio and TV, both tied with total audience sizes of 4.2 Billion people. With radio almost all of that is free over-the-air radio, but with TV, 63% of the television audience is in households that offer pay-TV in the form of satellite or cable TV.
Last and definitely not least the biggest, i.e. mobile telecoms; which now have an active reach of 4.4 Billion people.

There you go. This article is intended to help sort out the math and the big picture. If you need more info, I have a whole chapter of the Digital Divide with obviously mainly a focus on mobile, both in the Tomi Ahonen Almanac 2010 and the Tomi Ahonen Phone Book 2010. I will be updating these numbers to the 2011 edition of the Almanac with even more interesting numbers, and those who buy the 2010 Almanac now in January, will receive the 2011 Almanac for no extra cost.