UN says world now has 4b phone lines

Largely because of the mobile phone boom in developing countries, telephone service has quadrupled in the past decade to 4 billion lines worldwide, the UN telecommunications agency, quoted by an Associated Press report.

The Associated Press report said the International Telecommunications Union counts 1.27 billion fixed lines and 2.68 billion mobile accounts. The total number of people represented by those figures is unclear because many people, particularly in industrial countries, have both kinds of service.

The increase has been especially strong in developing countries that have been able to provide cellular phone service to tens of millions of people much more cheaply than having to wire up homes and offices for fixed-line telephones, the report said.

As a result, 61% of the world's mobile subscribers are in developing countries, the ITU said. China and India, for example, together added almost 200 million mobile subscribers to the global total in the first three months of this year, it said.

In 1996 there were fewer than 1 billion fixed-line and mobile phone subscribers altogether. Fixed-line subscriptions have grown slowly since then, but mobile has taken off, showing 'spectacular success,' the Associated Press report quoting Doreen Bogdan-Martin, one of the report's authors, said.

The report also said more than 1 billion people in the world use the Internet.