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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 12:15 GMT
Mobiles narrow digital divisions
Fishermen in Kerala,, AP
Mobiles are helping fishermen in Kerala get better prices and cut waste

Mobile phones and net access are helping narrow the gulf between rich and poor nations, says a UN report.

The efficiencies these technologies bring has boosted development in poorer countries, said the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Mobile phone users in developing nations now make up 58% of handset subscribers worldwide, it said.

But it warned that the digital divide meant that developing nations still lagged far behind richer countries.

Big gap

The annual Information Economy report by the UN body looks at the way that science and technology can drive long-term economic growth.

It was now well-established, said the report, that greater use of technology in businesses, schools and at home could raise standards of living and help people prosper.

In many developing nations the mobile phone had become the standard bearer for these changes, it said.

"In Africa, where the increase in terms of the number of mobile phone subscribers and penetration has been greatest, this technology can improve the economic life of the population as a whole," it said.

In rural communities in Uganda, and the small vendors in South Africa, Senegal and Kenya mobile phones were helping traders get better prices, ensure less went to waste and sell goods faster.

Fised line phones, AP
Mobiles are helping some nations leapfrog older technologies
The take up of mobiles was allowing developing nations to "leapfrog" some generations of technology such as fixed line telephones and reap more immediate rewards, said the report.

Greater use of computers in small businesses in countries such as Thailand made staff boost productive, it said. A study of Thai manufacturing firms showed that a 10% increase in computer literate staff produced a 3.5% productivity gain.

The developing world was also catching up in terms of net availability. In 2002, said UNCTAD, net availability was ten times higher in developing nations. In 2006, net availability was only six times higher.

But despite the improvements mobiles and greater computer use were bringing in their wake, the report warned that a big gulf remained between rich and poor.

Developed countries still had many more net users and since 2002 had the gap in terms of broadband users had widened.

To make the most of the transformative potential of the net, mobiles and other technologies the UN report recommended that countries update cyber laws, intellectual property regulations, upgrade infrastructure and invest in training.

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