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Sweden, Korea Top U.N.'s Communication Technology Rankings

The targeting of consumers in developing countries for mobile phones has resulted in six of every 10 global citizens having a cell phone, according to a report from the U.N. International Telecommunication Union, or ITU.

The comprehensive 154-country report, unveiled this week in Geneva, covers a wide range of developments in information and communication technologies.

"The most advanced countries in ICT [information and communication technologies] are from Northern Europe," the report stated. "The exception is the Republic of Korea. Sweden tops the new ITU ICT Development Index, followed by the Republic of Korea, Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland, and Norway."

Myanmar, controlled by a military dictatorship, ranks last. The United States ranks 17th in the way the world's citizens use information and communications technology.

The cost of using a "Price Basket" of ICT features is lowest in the United States. The ITU's Price Basket measures and compares the average cost of fixed telephone, mobile cellular, and Internet broadband across the range of countries. Singapore also ranked along with the United States with the lowest Price Basket cost.

The most dramatic change since the ITU's last report, in 2002, was the growth in mobile phone usage. "There has been a clear shift to mobile cellular telephony," the ITU said, noting that developing countries, which accounted for less than half of the world's mobile phone subscriptions in 2002, now account for more than two-thirds. Manufacturers of low-cost cell phones and PCs have stepped up sales of their offerings in recent years in developing countries.

The case of South Korea is particularly interesting, the ITU said, because it ranked high in ICT sophistication and usage, yet the income level of its citizens is relatively low. The report states, "This illustrates how a strong and targeted ICT policy can drive the development of the information society in countries with relatively lower income levels."

The ITU survey found that 23 out of 100 global inhabitants were using the Internet at the end of 2008. While developing nations had low Internet penetration levels -- Africa, for instance, has just a 5% usage level -- the ITU was optimistic that the rapid spread of 3G mobile networks represents "a clear potential for mobile broadband to connect more and more people -- and at higher speed."

Countries that moved up the index at a fairly rapid rate over a five-year period from 2002 to 2007 included Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, as well as some Eastern European countries.

The ITU said it plans to issue Price Basket statistics annually in the future.

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