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There Are Nearly As Many Cell Phone Subscriptions As People on Earth

There are 96 cell phones for every 100 people

Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, Canada, just got high speed cell phone service last year. (Dani J)
smithsonian.com

In the Spring of 2011, photographer Donald Weber traveled to the northern community of Iglooik, a town of 2,000 in the Canadian High Arctic. Weber was there to capture a cultural transformation. “The North,” says filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, “has gone 'from the stone age to the digital age in a single generation.'”

An exaggeration to be sure, but not much of one. In the first half of the 20th century, many Arctic communities were only reachable by radio. In 1963, a small pocket got access to a landline telephone, and in 1972 satellite phones started to go into operation. Iqualuit, the capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, just got cell phone data service last year. In his photo series, Weber snapped portraits of Inuit people lit only by their cellphones and tablets—a rapid penetration of modern devices that more than outdoes the slow creep of previous tools.

This same story has been playing out in previously remote communities around the world, and now, says Quartz, there are nearly as many cell phone subscribers on the planet as there are people.

In 2013, there were some 96 cell-phone service subscriptions for every 100 people in the world. Shouting is likely the next-most widespread communications technique.

Cell phones are not evenly distributed around the planet, with some people having more than one to their name.

In wealthier countries, penetration rates exceed 100% because of individuals with multiple subscriptions, making up for the disparity in developing economies. Still, penetration rates are impressive even in poor countries, with an average of 89.4 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.

In Africa, they say, there are 63.5 cell phone planets per 100 people, though, as Reuters points out, these are concentrated in the hands of the wealthy, with many people owning two subscriptions. It's easy to imagine, though, how soon cell phones could outnumber people and anyone who wanted one could afford to buy a connection to the rest of humanity.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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