The most advanced nations when it comes to information and communication technology (ICT) are found in northern Europe, with Sweden topping the list, according to a new ranking released today by the United Nations of 154 countries worldwide.
The ICT Development Index (IDI), produced by the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU), compared developments in these countries over a five-year period from 2002 to 2007 using indicators such as households with a computer, the number of Internet users and computer literacy levels.
“The report shows that overall the magnitude of the global digital divide remains unchanged between 2002 and 2007. Despite significant improvements in the developing world, the gap between the ICT haves and have-nots remains,” the agency said in a news release.
The research found that the most advanced countries in ICT are from northern Europe, with the exception of the Republic of Korea, which ranks second, followed by Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway.
These countries are followed by other, mainly high-income countries from Europe, Asia and North America. Western and northern Europe and North America are the regions with the highest IDI scores, and most countries from these regions are among the top 20 ICT economies, according to the ITU.
The agency added that poor countries, in particular the least developed countries (LDCs), remain at the lower end of the index with limited access to ICT infrastructure, including fixed and mobile telephony, Internet and broadband.
Given the close relationship between ICT level and gross domestic product (GDP), many of the poorer countries, especially in Africa, rank further down in the IDI, with little change in ranking since 2002, ITU reported.
Some developing countries, though, have moved up considerably in the Index over the five-year period, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China and Viet Nam, partly due to high mobile cellular growth, coupled with an increase in Internet users.
ITU added that both developed and developing countries have increased their ICT levels by more than 30 per cent over the five-year period, but developing countries are still lagging behind on ICT access and usage.
The data also showed that there has been a clear shift away from fixed to mobile cellular telephone use, and that by the end of 2008, there were over three times more mobile cellular subscriptions than fixed telephone lines globally. Two thirds of those are now in the developing world compared with less than half in 2002.
Also, based on ITU estimates, 23 out of 100 inhabitants globally used the Internet at the end of 2008. But penetration levels in the developing countries remain low, and Africa with 5 per cent penetration is lagging behind. When it comes to broadband penetration, figures are even lower, noted the ITU, the lead UN agency for ICT issues, and the global focal point for governments and the private sector in developing networks and services.