Mobile phones are the most common way of accessing the internet anywhere in the world today, according to a new report released by the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.

ITU forecasts that the total number of mobile broadband subscriptions will reach 3.6 billion by end 2016, while almost half of all mobile subscriptions are already broadband enabled.

Broadband-enabled smartphones are increasingly popular in wealthy countries because of their convenience; in developing countries, chronic lack of fixed telecommunications infrastructure makes mobile more a platform of necessity, rather than choice.

The smartphone market has reached 90% penetration in the saturated markets of North America and Europe and in mature markets in Asia-Pacific, leaving little room for future growth. But emerging markets will see robust shipment growth, with India and Indonesia, in particular, driving growth over the next few years. Already in early 2016, India overtook the United States as the second largest market in the world for smartphones (with over 260 million).

The UN Broadband Commission also reports that an estimated 165 countries have now deployed 4G (mobile broadband) networks. Europe is home to around 30% of all 4G networks deployed worldwide. In Europe (and elsewhere), operators have started shutting down 2G and/or 3G networks – indeed, it is looking increasingly likely that 3G networks might be shut down before 2G network elements are fully decommissioned.

The report further suggests that this increase in connections and devices is accompanied by a similar increase in adoption of registered users in online services. The milestone of one billion WhatsApp users was passed earlier this year, Google reached one billion Gmail monthly active users at end 2015, and Facebook reports 1.13 billion daily active users on average by mid-2016, of which 91% access Facebook via mobile. Some 84.5% of these daily active users reside outside the US and Canada.

Credit: ITU, UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development