The number of mobile phone subscriptions worldwide has reached 4.6 billion and is expected to increase to five billion this year, the U.N. telecommunications agency said Monday.
Mobile phone providers in rich countries offer advanced services and handsets, while people in developing countries increasingly use the mobile phone for health services and banking, said the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
"Even during an economic crisis, we have seen no drop in the demand for communications services," said the agency's Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure.
"The simplest, low-end mobile phone can do so much to improve health care in the developing world," Toure said in a statement, citing examples of patients receiving reminder messages on their mobile phone ahead of a medical appointment or text messages instructing them how to take complex medication.
The number of mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide is expected to exceed one billion this year, the agency said. There were around 600 million such subscriptions at the end of 2009, it added.
Web access by people on the move, including through laptops and smart mobile devices, will probably surpass web access from desktop computers within the next five years, the agency said.
© 2010 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.