UN: worldwide use of Internet, e-commerce still growing

Despite the economic slowdown being felt worldwide and the decline of many Internet-based businesses, global use of the Net continues to boom while e-commerce grows at a robust pace, according to figures released by the United Nations (U.N.) this week.

The number of Internet users worldwide is expected to reach 655 million by the end of 2002, representing 30 percent growth over the same period last year, according to the yearly "E-Commerce and Development Report," issued Monday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Additionally, the value of goods and services bought and sold over the Internet, e-commerce, could reach as high as US$2.3 billion this year, a 50 percent rise from last year, the report said. That number could climb to $3.9 billion at the end of 2003, the UNCTAD report said.

At present growth rates, the report estimates that around 18 percent of all purchasing by firms and individuals could be done over the Web by 2006.

M-commerce, that is commerce initiated from mobile devices such as cell phones, is forecasted to generate worldwide revenues of almost $50 billion in 2002, with western Europe and North America leading that market for the next three years. By 2005, sales in the Asia-Pacific region are expected to jump to 40 percent of total global m-commerce revenue, valued at $225 billion, the UNCTAD said.

The report considers SMS (short messaging service), or text messaging, as the dominant contributor to m-commerce revenues, followed by micro-payments, financial services, logistics, information services and wireless customer relationship management. But difficulties in making electronic payments and concerns over the security and privacy of transactions are "limiting the conduct of m-commerce," the report said.

There are more people using the network for information gathering, messaging or making purchases in the U.S. than in any other country. Japan, China and Germany followed as the countries with the highest rate of Internet access for its citizens, the report said.

Both India and Latin American showed strong growth in Internet usage. In India, Internet access grew by 27.3 percent from last year, representing one in 147 of the population, or 7 million people with Internet access. Latin America Internet usage jumped, especially in Brazil (gaining 60 percent year on year), Mexico (34 percent) and Chile (22.3 percent), the report said.

Oceania, which included Australia and New Zealand, experienced a percentage growth of 11.4 percent, with 8.5 million people gaining Internet access by 2001.

Though overall Internet usage in Africa improved, it continued to lag well behind the rest of the world. Apart from five African countries (South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and Tunisia) only one African in 440 had access to the Net, UNCTAD said.

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