Technology 010307

2.17 billion around the globe using mobile phones; Low-key response to launch of Vista; Tencent rides the Chinese web wave

2.17 billion around the globe using mobile phones

Venerable UN agency the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has released its latest worldwide survey. The union can trace its heritage back to 1865, when it was the International Telegraph Union. These days it is a UN agency with many functions. One of these is to track all manner of communications, including internet and mobile phone usage in more than 200 countries.
According to the ITU, mobile-phone subscribers worldwide now outnumber internet subscribers by a ratio of five to one, or 2.17 billion to 385.5 million. Even at that huge number, average mobile usage is only about 34 for every 100 residents. This still beats the internet subscription rate of about six per 100.

Some other interesting statistics included in the survey are:

• Of the 10 countries with the highest density of mobile-phone use, six are in Europe. Luxembourg, with its cut-rate plans, is number one for mobile phone use with 155 subscribers for every 100 residents. The United States is 61st. In Europe, Ireland is at 10th position, with a market saturation of 101.5 per cent.

• Asia has 40.4 per cent of the world's mobile users, but mobile penetration is highest in Europe's population, at 84.5 per cent.

• In the Americas, the United States has the lowest subscription rate, at 67.7 per cent, but the highest numbers using mobiles, at 201.6 million.

• The worldwide average cost of sending a text message is 12 US cents. Different countries see large differences in cost – in Europe, the average is 22 cents. In the US it is seven cents, while in Cyprus it is only two cents per text. Kuwait is at the other end of the scale at 69 cents.

• Breaking down countries by income shows that only 8.1 per cent of mobile users are in countries that the ITU categorises as “low income”.  

Low-key response to launch of Vista

The much-delayed Microsoft Windows Vista was finally released to the public on 30 January. It is more than five years since its predecessor, Windows XP, was released – a very long time in the computer business. Microsoft said the delay was due to the time they invested in improving the security of the Windows operating system, which is notoriously vulnerable to viruses. New security features include a ‘User Account Control', which aims to stop malicious programs from capturing administrative details such as passwords, yet still leaves an authorised user with the freedom to use all program functions. It is estimated that critical-security vulnerabilities will be reduced by as much as 80 per cent by these developments.
One of the most trumpeted features introduced with Vista is the new visual styles, particularly ‘Windows Aero', which gives snazzy visual effects like translucency. To enable these features, the contents of every window are stored in video memory. As a result, Aero has significantly higher hardware requirements than its predecessors. While most PCs purchased after 2002 will meet the minimum requirements, many laptops and mid-range desktops will not be able to run this interface.

Overall, Vista seems to have garnered less attention than previous releases. Since the release, in light of slow Vista sales, Microsoft announced that revenue forecasts had been ‘overly aggressive', causing a drop of 2.2 in the companies share price, down to $28.21 per share.

Tencent rides the Chinese web wave

With over a billion people, many of whom are young, without siblings and with a propensity towards games and online interaction, the Chinese internet market is one of the most important in the world. In 2006, the country had 123 million internet users, and this number continues to grow rapidly.

In China, 70 per cent of internet users are under 30. Unlike users in the US, Chinese people spend less time looking for information on the net, preferring to play online games where they enter virtual worlds and assume personas, as well as downloading video and music.

Riding this wave is a Chinese company that has achieved 80 per cent dominance, outperforming any other similar company in a home market, such as Google. The company, Tencent, provides all-in-one entertainment and a mobile instant-messaging service. Tencent has grown so quickly that the Chinese government has become alarmed, with the Central Bank going so far as to issue a warning about the virtual currency Q-coins, which allow customers to shop online for a wide variety of products from music to furniture. A bank official said there would be a crack-down on the coins if they were used for money laundering. Analysts say the currency is so popular that an underground economy has emerged, even though the coins are not redeemable for cash.

By Tom Rowe