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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 December, 2003, 15:45 GMT
Mobiles 'narrow information gap'
Mobile phone user
Mobile phones are no longer the preserve of the rich
Mobile phones are helping to bridge the communications divide between the world's rich and poor, a report says.

The Washington-based Worldwatch Institute says that in developing countries, the proportion of people with access to a phone has grown over the past 10 years by more than 25%.

One in five of the world's population had used a mobile phone by 2002, it reports - up from one in 237 in 1992.

The relatively low cost of mobile reception masts has driven this trend.

New mobile networks can recoup their costs and expand their operations more quickly than traditional fixed-line operators who have to install copper wires.

Coupled with the fall in mobile phone costs as more people use the technology, this has widened access to phone lines.

Internet access

In 2002, for the first time, the number of mobile phone subscribers (1.15 billion) was greater than the number of fixed-line connections (1.05 billion).

The report says phone access in Africa has grown "dramatically" on the back of the growth of mobile phone technology.

In 1999, it says, Uganda became the first African nation to have more mobile than fixed-line customers.

Some 30 other African nations have since followed.

Access to the internet has also increased as a result of the growth in mobile technology, which enables people to make wireless connections to the web.

In 1992, just one in 778 of the world's population had used the internet. By 2002, one in 10 had.

The Worldwatch Institute says such developments will have tangible benefits on people's lives.

"By linking rural farmers to market information, craft workers to customers, patients to doctors, and students to teachers, the internet can aid economic development," it says.

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