Norway may have a small, widely dispersed population, but it packs a real punch when it comes to the diffusion of advanced technologies among its communities. It is, in fact, one of the most modern, innovative information and communication technology (ICT) markets in the world.
It boasts the highest combined penetration of PCs, mobile phones and Internet access in Europe, while an Information Society Index published by IDC/World Times in September 2000 ranked Norway fourth in ICT worldwide. Moreover, a late 1999 study by Forbes magazine positioned Norway second only to Sweden in terms of technology infrastructure relative to the USA. Norway scored 91 out of a possible 100 points - impressive for a nation of only 4.4 milllion souls.
In terms of the number of PCs per capita, the World Competitiveness Yearbook for 1999 pegged Norway as the fourth-highest nation in the world after the USA, Sweden and Finland. A survey made by Statistics Finland in May 2000 revealed that Norway also has the third-highest mobile phone penetration in the world, at 63.4 per cent of the population, after Finland itself (70.2 per cent) and Iceland (66.1 per cent). Telenor, the largest of Norway's telecommunications providers, alone has around 5 million mobile telephone customers internationally, with a subscriber base of 2.2 million within Norway. Meanwhile, IKT-Norge, the country's largest ICT industry association, conducted a study in September 2000 that revealed that some 60 per cent of Norwegians have access to the Internet, a 49 per cent increase since September the previous year. Fifty per cent of all Norwegian homes have online access while some 30 per cent of the population use the Internet daily, with the greatest growth seen among users of home PCs. Booming figures have also been seen in the use of Internet shopping and other services - a good indicator of how Norwegian society is embracing lifestyle changes made possible by new technology. A survey by Gallup Norway during the third quarter of 2000 showed that 340,000 Norwegians purchased goods over the Internet, twice as many as during the same period in 1999. In addition, 38 per cent of those with access to the Internet use online banking services, another doubling in only twelve months. At the close of 2000 there were a total of 1,000,000 online banking customers, with an exponential growth rate of 50,000 new subscribers each month.
Such figures reinforce Norway's strength as a society at the forefront of the information revolution. They are mirrored by the gross turnover within the Norwegian ICT industry, including software development, which has increased 11.4 per cent every year for the last five years. Turnover for the industry amounted to some USD 23 billion in 1999, with the consultancy and software sectors recording a 43 per cent average annual growth rate over the last three years. The entire sector is growing more than any other sphere of the economy, including petroleum and fisheries, traditionally Norway's strongest economic engines. The number of new businesses being established by ICT entrepreneurs is also quite astonishing; according to IKT-Norge, 487 start-up companies were registered in the first six months of 2000 alone.
Norway has also built up an established pool of home-grown software expertise, in programming and design as well as strategic planning and systems implementation. The software industry's main strengths lie in its solution-oriented, problem-solving approach. Many inventive Norwegian companies adapt, modify and refine existing technologies in order to address specific problems, creating first-generation software where necessary.