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The Internet in 2010 — just how big is it?

At the end of 2007 global online population statistics put the number of internet users worldwide at about 1.3 billion. By 31 December 2009, there were 1.8 billion people across the globe with regular access to the internet.

That’s an additional half-a-billion people, and means that today more than a quarter of the global population has access to the internet. Couple that growth with the regional breakdown of internet penetration, and you start to see just how crucial it is for businesses to connect with their customers online, no matter where in the world they operate.

Percentage of population online

In North America more than 75% of people are online, in Australasia / Oceania it’s 60% and in Europe 53% — although within that subdued European figure you have Scandinavian states sporting 80%-90% penetration, and the UK with over 76% and Ireland wit 65.8%.

Asia’s internet penetration figures stand at a shade over 20% — but that doesn’t give the full picture either, because there’s a massive swing from a high 77.3% penetration in South Korea to a very low 0.4% penetration in Bangladesh. Percentages can hide the sheer scale of the potential online market in some of these countries too.

Take China as an example. Only 29% of Chinese people have internet access. That doesn’t sound like much, but translate it to actual individual internet users and it represents a massive 384,000,000 people, giving China the world’s largest online population by quite some margin. A global phenomenon, local impact in its report “Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users, 2010 and Beyond: A New Balance”, analyst firm Gartner predicts that by 2014 over 3 billion people — or a significant majority of the world’s adult population — will have the ability to “transact electronically via mobile or Internet technologies”. That’s a staggering statistic that the firm says “represents a fundamental shift in the foundation of global commerce”.

Widespread internet adoption and the use of electronic media to facilitate commerce is a global phenomenon… but it’s one that even local businesses can’t afford to ignore. Whether people are looking for a plumber to fit their new bathroom suite, or using a smartphone to pinpoint peer-recommended Italian restaurants near where they’re staying, consumers rely on the internet to guide their international, national and local purchasing decisions.

Ready or not, that’s already having an impact on your business.