Sweden tops IDC’s IT advancement index

By Rebecca Reid

IDG News Service

Sweden is the most technologically advanced nation in the world, according to the annual Information Society Index (ISI) by IDC.

The study examines the current state of adoption and use of IT and how it relates to society. This year, IDC measured 53 countries on variables such as broadband penetration, wireless penetration, total spending on IT as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP), civil liberties and e-commerce spending.

In Sweden, 69 per cent of the country has access to the Internet, with 15 per cent them using broadband. Eighty per cent of Sweden’s population subscribes to cellular wireless services and 25 per cent of Web users access the Internet from mobile devices.

The country spends 4.1 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on IT, with 20 per cent of that being spent on software. According to IDC, technologically advanced countries tend to spend more on software while less sophisticated nations are still spending on infrastructure.

In addition, 70 per cent of the country has attended post-secondary education institutions.

It is often assumed that the U.S. is the most advanced society, but Sweden has consistently outranked it for the past several years, said Stephen Minton, director of worldwide IT markets and strategies for IDC, in Framingham, Mass. The U.S. ranked eighth overall.

Although the gap between the two nations is negligible in all areas but wireless and broadband, Sweden clearly out-deploys the U.S. in both wireless and broadband.

“Thanks to government incentives and funding, Sweden on the whole has developed very quickly in its usage and adoption of IT over the last ten years,” Minton said.

The IT progress may have its roots in the 1880s when the government sponsored the building of a telephone network to connect Sweden’s cities, which were separated by vast distances, Minton said.

As a result, the telecommunications industry grew quickly in Sweden and there are government and private companies that traditionally have worked together to develop the IT infrastructure, Minton said.

In 1993, Sweden was the first European country to open up its telecommunications market to competition and now has more than 150 companies registered as telephone operators. In addition, broadband has reached most of the rural areas of the country thanks to government initiatives.

In addition, there were government initiatives in the 1990s that encouraged users to borrow computers from work for use at home, Minton said, and computers are widely used in the schools.

However, by 2007 the ISI gap will have narrowed significantly between the U.S. and Sweden because broadband deployment will grow rapidly over the next several years, according to IDC forecasts, Minton said.

The top ten countries ranked according to the ISI, in order, are Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, New Zealand, Switzerland, the U.S, Austria and Canada.

The U.K. fell off the top ten list to number 11 because of its relatively low percentage of broadband subscriber households at 4.3 per cent. The Netherlands, which Minton calls a “rising star,” has 11.8 per cent broadband penetration.

IDC also ranked a bottom ten out of the 53 countries studied. The least technologically advanced countries, in order of most to least developed, are Bulgaria, Egypt, Romania, Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

However, these aren’t the least advanced countries in the world. Some of the poorest nations didn’t even make it to the list because there wasn’t enough data to analyze, Minton said. For example, most of the countries in Africa didn’t make the list.

Even though China is often thought of as technologically advanced, while its cities are very advanced, development is lacking in rural areas. However, the Chinese government has kick-started an initiative to develop the Western regions of the country, which are the least advanced technologically.

If IDC’s growth projections come true, China will have the fourth-largest IT market in the world by 2010. India’s IT market is also expected to grow. As that occurs, those countries are likely to score much higher on the ISI, he said. Otherwise, there will be little change in the ISI rankings in the next five years, Minton said.

IDC is a division of International Data Group Inc., the parent company of IDG News Service.