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ITU speaks, we scratch our heads

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Silence the band and dim the lights, please: the ITU (International Telecommication Union) has published its annual global survey into which country is the most wired for mobile data.

Hong Kong and Denmark come out as winners, but Dan Gillmor, who travels a lot, in his SJ Mercury log asks how they arrived at this conclusion.

It's a very good question, and the executive summary - for that's all we get - doesn't explain the metric. Who's really 'wired' - or in the ITU's words - "which economy is performing in terms of information and communication technologies (ICTs) while also capturing how poised it is to take advantage of future ICT advancements", then?

Dan notes that the figures, which put Finland 12th (yes, 12th) and the UK eight, behind the USA in fifth place take account of very subjective, finger in the breeze guesses at future growth. But the 26 other factors that made up the final national score are equally subjective.

How did they arrive at them? Is one successfully complete WAP call in Singapre worth half an hour's access at cybercafe in Rio? How does an unwanted junk mail from your wireless carrier in the US compared to a spam SMS message from your cable provider in England?

Is it a complex economic metric, or is social value imputed -because social value, rather than market cap is surely what a survey of this kind should try and measure? We don't know, but we should.

The graphs themselves might raise a few qualms. The caption "mobile and internet - identical twins born two years apart" over a graph which starts in 1992 doesn't inspire confidence. … nor does the comparison of 3G in Korea, which is using cdma2000 and which will need to upgrade to "real" 3G, against 3G in Japan, which is a version of the real 3G, wideband CDMA.

As Dan notes, "few people are actually doing much in the way of mobile Net communications [in the USA] except WiFi", whereas the Nordic countries can't stop tapping out text messages, the Japanese are going ape about sending each other pictures between their phones, and no one at the ITU wanted to say one was worth more than the other.

You have to trust that the ITU has reliable usage figures available, and much else that's accurate to hand. We just can't fathom what they're trying to tell us. Perhaps given the delicate nature of the conclusions, it's a very diplomatic compromise. ®

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