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eMarketer has raised its projections for worldwide internet users for 2016 to 2021, mainly because of increases in China and other countries in Asia-Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe and Western Europe.
According to eMarketer’s new report, “Worldwide Internet and Mobile Users: eMarketer’s Estimates for 2016-2021” (available only to eMarketer PRO subscribers), nearly 47% of the world’s population will use the internet at least once a month in 2017 (either via desktop/laptop or mobile device), a 6.1% increase vs. 2016. eMarketer estimates internet adoption will surpass the halfway mark in 2019, when 50.6% of the worldwide population will use the internet, equating to 3.82 billion people.
A majority of growth in the number of internet users will come from low-income and rural areas across Asia-Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East and Africa. In these regions, many people are expected to go online for the first time via mobile internet. Nearly four in five internet users worldwide will use a mobile phone to access the internet this year—a 9.3% increase over 2016.
Growth in mobile internet usage will be bolstered by improving Wi-Fi coverage and expanded 3G/4G availability.
Additionally, smartphones are becoming more widespread due to cheaper handsets and increasingly affordable data plans. The number of smartphone users will grow by double digits in every market except North America this year. People in Latin America in particular—where data costs have been historically high—are expected to take advantage of these affordable solutions to access messaging services.
The declining cost of data in this region has been tied to increased offerings of device subsidies among competing telecom operators. For the first time this year, more than three in five internet users in Latin America will use a smartphone for regular access. By 2021, this proportion will exceed 72%.
A strong demand for messaging services and social media platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger is driving the expansion of mobile internet access in these regions. These platforms have become the leading way to communicate with family and friends, and in some areas are more affordable than standard voice calling or SMS messaging.
The majority of mobile phone internet users in developed regions will use a smartphone to go online—more than 98% in North America and 97% in Western Europe will do so this year. Any significant growth in the number of internet users in these regions will come from older age groups going online for the first time.
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