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Technological Forecasting & Social Change 75 (2008) 1339 – 1347

Research note

Evaluating latecomer growth in inf

ormation technology: A historical perspective
Jeffrey James
Tilburg University, The Netherlands, Warandelaan 2, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands Received 23 July 2007; received in revised form 7 October 2007; accepted 24 October 2007

Abstract From a low initial base it is not difficult for developing countries to close the relative digital divide with the developed countries. A more challenging and novel question is whether, because of leapfrogging and other latecomer advantages, developing countries have grown faster than developed from the same initial starting point. Or, is it the case rather that the disadvantages of being a latecomer exceed the advantages? Are there any pronounced outliers among the developing countries and what are their distinguishing characteristics? Using a number of methods and data sources I seek to answer these questions in a tentative but provocative manner. ? 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Digital divide; Information technology; Internet; Mobile phones

1. Introduction Much of the recent literature on the digital divide has focused on the narrowing gap between rich and poor countries over the past decade or so. Encouraging as this tendency may be, however, it does not in itself reflect any great achievement on the part of the latter. For, as argued below, the closing divide occurred from a major difference in initial levels of IT use. The starting point for developing countries was in fact so low that almost any increase would have registered as more rapid growth than in the developed countries. From this point of view, some decline in the divide was virtually inevitable. A more challenging

E-mail address: M.J.James@uvt.nl. 0040-1625/$ - see front matter ? 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2007.10.005

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and novel question [1] is whether, because of leapfrogging and other latecomer advantages (such as the falling price of hardware), developing countries have grown faster than developed from the same initial starting point. Or, is it the case, conversely, that the disadvantages of being a latecomer (such as low income, inadequate education and infrastructure) exceed the advantages, leading instead to slower growth? Are there any pronounced outliers among the developing countries in the sample and what are their distinguishing characteristics? In what follows I seek to answer these questions in relation to both the Internet and mobile phones, using the limited amount of data that are currently available. 1.1. The Internet [7] Fig. 1 shows Internet users per 100 inhabitants for developed and developing countries over the period 1994 to 2004(1). Measured as the ratio of users in the former divided by those in the latter, the digital divide declined from 73 in 1994 to 8 in 2004. Note however that the rapid convergence in this sense occurred from a very large difference in initial conditions. Whereas, that is to say, the developed countries began the period from 2.18 users per 100 inhabitants, the corresponding figure. for developing countries was only .03. In fact, when one takes this difference into account some decline in the digital divide was almost inevitable. For, from that minute initial level, developing countries would only have needed an increase in the number of users to 0.7 per 100 inhabitants in order to achieve the same percentage growth that occurred in the developed countries over the entire ten year period shown in the figure (that is, an average of 237% per annum). And in judging the speed of the decline (from 73 to 8) one needs again to take into account the major difference in initial conditions between the two groups of countries. It is worth noting that the optimistic scenario painted in Fig. 1 is based on a log scale (that effectively compresses the vertical axis). Use of raw data paint a very different picture where, as shown in Fig. 2, there is a sharply widening gap in Internet use between developed and developing countries. (In 2000

Fig. 1. Closing the digital divide in the Internet.

J. James / Technological Forecasting & Social Change 75 (2008) 1339–1347

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Fig. 2. Internet users per 1000 population, 1990–2000. Source: Based on Fink and Kenny [2].

about one third of users in the former countries were using the Internet, whereas only some 0.4% in the latter countries were online in that year). The growing digital gap in the figure serves to remind us that there are huge differences in actual Internet users in the global economy.

2. Accounting for differences in initial conditions One way of eliminating this difference is to ask how long it took the developed countries to reach the level of 2.18 users per 100 inhabitants (by 1994) and compare that amount of time with the 6 years taken by the developing countries to reach the almost identical figure of 2.1 in the year 2000. The evidence on this is unfortunately rather scant, but if one accepts the commonly held view that the Internet began in the early 90s in the rich countries then these countries took only half the time needed by the poor countries to achieve the use level mentioned above. The growth rate, that is to say, was roughly twice as high in the former than the latter. Logically, the next way of removing the low-base bias is to start at 2000, the year in which developing countries as a whole reached the starting point of 2.18 users per 100 inhabitants in the developed countries. Between 2000 and 2004 the number of users had increased by slightly more than three-fold in the developing countries, as against the eight-fold increase achieved for the 4 years 1994 to 1998 in the rich countries. Yet another way of looking at the issue is to examine the growth paths of developing countries with Internet use equal (or close) to 2.18, the level which developed countries had reached by 1994. As shown in Table 1 five countries matched this requirement and their Internet use per 100 inhabitants grew from 2.17 in 1999 to 12.8 in 2005. For their part the developed countries had reached the level of 30.7 over the same number of years after 1994 (see Fig. 1), implying much faster growth. Translated into differences in average growth, the figures are 82 and 218% for developing and developed countries respectively. The table also shows that no individual country comes even close to the developed country average. Apparently, any advantages of being a latecomer to the Internet are heavily

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Table 1 Developing countries with the same starting point as the developed countries (2.18 per 100) Country Thailand Barbados Brazil Panama Turkey Internet users per 100 inhabitants (1999) 2.14 2.24 2.04 2.19 2.23 Average = 2.17 Internet users per 100 inhabitants (2005) 11.03 14.07 17.24 6.39 15.31 Average = 12.8 Average annual growth rate (%) 69.2 88.0 124.2 32.8 97.8

Source: ITU (ict eye tables).

outweighed by the constraining forces of inadequate education, infrastructure and so on [3]. Developing countries, that is to say, were far worse off in these respects in 1999 than were developed in 1994. Another logical progression in the argument is to conduct the same exercise with a starting point of 4.1 rather than 2.14 (that is, when the developed countries were 1 year further along their growth trajectory). As shown in Table 2, another group of five developing countries matched this requirement and exhibited average growth of 60.9% between 1999 and 2005 (4.14 to 19.27). This compares with a developed country average of 130.9% (4.1 to 36.3), a differential that is similar to that recorded in relation to the entries shown in Fig. 1. And again in common with those results, no individual country in Table 2 has a growth rate higher than the comparable developed country average. It is true that this conclusion rests on a small sample of developing as opposed to developed countries and consequent problems of statistical unreliability. It is also true however that the former sample can be doubled by repeating the exercise with two other starting points, 3.0 and 6.0 (and yet further exercises might yield extra countries for the sample). In the appendix I report the results of these two additional exercises, which, apart from one small, island economy, lend further support to the preliminary hypothesis that developing countries exhibit a lower growth rate than developed over the comparable period. The pattern described above does not however apply to all latecomer countries. Perhaps the most telling exception is the case of Korea, to which I now briefly turn [3]. The number of Internet users in that latecomer country amounted to 1.6 million in 1997 (3.7% of the population). By 2001, according to most estimates (eg. 3) the number of users had reached a figure of

Table 2 Developed countries with the same starting point as the developed countries (4.1 users per 100) Country Guyana Costa Rica Chile South Africa Belize Internet users per 100 inhabitants (1999) 4.05 4.18 4.16 4.04 4.27 Internet users per 100 inhabitants (2005) 21.3 21.32 28.93 10.75 14.07 Annual average growth rate (%) 71.0 68.3 99.2 27.7 38.3

Source: ITU (ict eye tables).

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almost 25 million (or 56% of the population). Now, looking again at Fig. 1 it appears that Internet use of 3.7% was achieved in the developed countries between 1994 and 1995, so that subsequent growth in those countries can be compared with what occurred in Korea. The question, in particular, is how long it took the developed countries (from 1994/5) to reach a level of Internet use equal to 56% (the Korean case). And the answer is that this level had not been reached even by 2004, the end of the ten year period covered in the figure. By 2001, in fact, developed countries had reached only 36.3% of the population, emphasizing just how exceptional the Korean case really was. Whatever the reasons for this ultimately were, they had little to do with income. For even by 2005, this country's per capita income was almost three times less than the average of high-income countries (World Bank). Part of the explanation undoubtedly lies in the high levels of literacy and user skills that Korea had already attained by 1977. Adult literacy, for example, at 97.2%(4) was almost universal. Another more specific part of the explanation turns on the skills and capabilities required in the electronics industry itself. What is absolutely central here is the role played by government in Korea. For, along with other East Asian ‘miracle’ countries Korea ‘set a strategy to master core technological capabilities and become competitive in the IT industry — their strategic intent sustained their efforts and led to cumulative learning and higher value-added production. The need to anticipate the firm's or the country's comparative advantage has become important, to allow for lead time for learning, lumpy investments, the building of support infrastructures, and training or recruitment of a critical mass of engineers’(5). In pursuit of its national strategic intent, Korea used, to excellent effect, a range of policy instruments in trade, credit, foreign investment, special education and technological support to bolster the efforts of firms to acquire ‘core competencies'. This represents a far cry from many contemporary developing countries which have no strategic plan in the area of technological capabilities. What they have instead are rather vague statements about the importance of information technology and the need to extract its benefits. These countries should pay heed to the experience of the NICs (newly industrializing countries) which ‘suggests that national strategies need to address systemic constraints to the use and diffusion of IT. This involves organizational adjustments and coordinated actions by firms, industries, and government, with emphasis on management, skills and restructuring’(5). Note, finally, that strategic intent and the sustained development of core competencies themselves explain ‘some of the motivations and modalities of national policies and programs to diffuse IT as a generic technology’(5). 2.1. Mobile phones Mobile phones are likely to exhibit a better growth performance than the Internet in comparison to the experience of the developed countries. There are two reasons for this. One of them is that mobile telephony is much less demanding than the Internet in terms of affordability, user capabilities and infrastructure.(6) The other reason is that the former technology is better placed than the latter to take advantage of what is described as ‘leapfrogging’. The essential idea behind this concept is that developing countries can benefit from the fact of not having invested in earlier versions of a technology and are hence able to leapfrog directly and advantageously to the latest version. A good example is the potential afforded to developing countries by digital switching technology, the successor to electro-mechanical systems. In particular, these countries did not suffer from the disadvantage of having large, established mechanical networks and thus had a ‘remarkable opportunity’ to leapfrog this technology, ‘avoiding the expense of replacing obsolete (though

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young in age) capital stock and problems of technological cumulativity, and start their telecommunications infrastructure from scratch’ (7) In the case of mobile phones the obvious analogy is with fixed-lines which some developing countries have been able to bypass altogether (Cambodia is one of the bestknown examples in this regard [4]). The question is now whether and to what extent the expected difference between mobile phones and the Internet shows up in the data. For comparative purposes I follow exactly the methodology that was used above in relation to the Internet. Fig. 2, for example, is the precise counterpart of Fig. 1, showing as it does, the closing of the digital divide in mobile phones between 1994 and 2004. (Here again though use of absolute numbers would show a growing rather than shrinking divide).

3. Accounting for differences in initial conditions According to the UNDP(8) there were 1.3 mobile phones per 100 inhabitants in the developed countries by 1990. It took four more years to reach the level of 5.2 in 1994 (see Fig. 2). In developing countries, on the other hand, it took only 3 years to achieve much the same rate of progress, offering a hint perhaps of leapfrogging at work. The next way of removing the low-base bias, however, leads to a somewhat different conclusion. The starting point, as in Fig. 1, is 2000, the year in which developing countries as a whole reached slightly more than the starting point of 5.2 users per 100 inhabitants in the developed countries. Between 2000 and 2004 the average annual rate of growth in the developing countries was 41.4%, as against the 24.6% achieved in the developed countries between 1994 and 1998. In this comparison the latter countries are favoured, though to a lesser extent than in the case of the Internet. I now examine the growth paths of developing countries with mobile phone subscriptions equal or close to 5.2 and 8.2, the levels which developed countries had reached by 1994 and 1995 respectively. As shown in Table 3, I chose the five countries that most closely met this requirement for the base level equal to 5.2 subscribers per 100 inhabitants. Average growth in the developing countries, from 5.28 to 49.22, is equal to 138.7% as against the similar figure of 142.3% for the developed countries. Much of this average performance in the former countries, however, is due to a major outlier, Jamaica, which far exceeded the growth rate achieved by the

Table 3 Developing countries with the same starting point as the developed countries (5.2 subscriptions per 100) Country Mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (1999) 4.58 5.16 5.38 5.59 5.70 Average = 5.28 Mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (2005) 26.66 26.37 40.68 105.78 46.63 Average = 49.22 Average annual growth (%) 80.3 68.5 109.0 298.7 119.7

Azerbaijan Bolivia Dominican Republic Jamaica Botswana Source: ITU (ict eye tables).

J. James / Technological Forecasting & Social Change 75 (2008) 1339–1347 Table 4 Developing countries with the same starting point as the developed countries (8.2 subscriptions per 100) Country Mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (1999) 8.70 8.31 7.94 8.27 8.13 Average = 8.27 Mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (2005) 52.76 35.05 44.04 52.46 30.64 Average = 43.0

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Average annual growth (%) 84.4 53.6 75.8 89.0 46.1

Mauritius El Salvador Mexico Panama Paraguay

Source: ITU (ict eye tables).

latter countries. (Jamaica's exceptional growth over the period seems to have been mainly about rapid liberalization of the telecommunications sector, which began in 1999 with the introduction of competition in wireless cellular services. The increased competition, in turn, led to lower prices and further adoption of mobile phones in the country. By 2003 the sector was fully liberalized). No other country in Table 3 grew at an average annual rate of 142.3%. Let me now examine if the pattern becomes clearer with a different group of countries whose rate of subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in 1999 was equal to 8.2 rather than 5.2. The relevant information is contained in Table 4, which is analogous in every way to Table 2 for the case of the Internet. In this case average growth in the developing countries, from 8.27 to 43.0, is equal to 70%, as opposed to the figure of 102% in the developed countries. Unlike Table 3, there is no single country with a growth

Fig. 3. Closing the digital divide in mobile phones.

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rate higher than that latter amount (perhaps partly because all but one of the sample is from Latin America [5]. Both tables, however, tend to undermine the idea that leapfrogging is rampant in the developing countries, even if average rates of growth tend to be more similar to those in developed countries than was true of the Internet (Fig. 3.).

4. Conclusions In this note I have proposed moving away from discussions about the closing digital divide to a more challenging assessment of latecomer progress in information technology. That apparently novel form of assessment is one in which growth rates in the Internet and mobile phones are compared between developed and developing countries, when they both start from the same initial base level [6]. The latter countries enjoy certain advantages as latecomer adopters but they also have to contend with certain disadvantages. In the case of the Internet the evidence clearly pointed to (much) lower growth in developing than developed countries (with only South Korea standing out as a striking exception). With regard to mobile phones, the gap in growth rates was predictably smaller (with Jamaica emerging as a clear outlier). These findings, however, should be regarded very much as tentative, based on evidence that is limited in terms of the periods it covers and the number of countries observed. 5. Notes 1) No-one, as far as I am aware, has dealt with this specific questions although there is of course a vast literature on the digital divide, lateness, leapfrogging and so on. 2) Parts of this section rely on [7]. 3) Policy is of course also a crucial variable. 4) Almost certainly, a similar story can be told for the East Asian NICs. 5) In terms of regions, Africa has the highest ratio of mobile to total telephony. 6) Latin America is not a region that is especially noted for its leapfrogging potential, as compared say with Africa or East Asia. 7) Note that although I have controlled for differences in initial conditions, I cannot of course control for all the differences that confronted countries in one period as against another. Appendix further calculations for Internet users 1. Using 3 per 100 inhabitants as the starting point
Country Argentina Venezuela Bulgaria Romania Internet users per 100 inhabitants (1999) 3.3 2.9 2.8 2.7 Internet users per 100 inhabitants (2005) 17.8 12.6 20.6 20.8 Average annual growth rate (%) 73.2 56.1 104.7 112.4

The growth over 6 years for developed countries (inferred from Fig. 1) is from 3.0 to 33, yielding an average of 166.7%.

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2. Using 6 per 100 inhabitants as the starting point
Country Seychelles Puerto Rico Trinidad & Tobago Antigua Lebanon Internet users per 100 inhabitants (1999) 6.5 5.3 5.8 5.3 6.6 Internet users per 100 inhabitants (2005) 26.0 22.1 12.2 35.6 19.6 Average annual growth rate (%) 49.8 53.0 18.5 94.8 32.9

The growth over 6 years for developed countries (inferred from Fig. 1) is from 6.0 to 38.0, yielding an average of 88.9%.

References
[1] International Telecommunications Union, World Telecommunication/ICT Development Report 2006, Geneva, 2006. [2] C. Fink, C. Kenny, W(h)ither the global digital divide, Info – The Journal of Policy, Regulation and Strategy for Telecommunications 5 (6) (2003). [3] J.-S. Hwang, South Korea, Digital Review of Asia Pacific, 2003, (available at http://www.digital-review.org/03_publishers. htm). [4] N. Hanna, S. Boyson, S. Gunaratne, The East Asian Miracle and Information Technology, World Bank Discussion Paper, vol. 326, 1996. [5] C. Kenny, Information and communications technologies for direct poverty alleviation, Development Policy Review 20 (2) (2002). [6] C. Antonelli, The Diffusion of Advanced Telecommunications in Developing Countries, OECD, 1990. [7] J. James, Correspondence, Current Science 93 (6) (2007). Jeffrey James is Professor of Development Economics at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, where he has also served as Director of the CENTER Graduate School in Economics and Management. He was previously Assistant Prof. of Economics at Boston University and Research Fellow in Development Economics at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford.


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