The number of mobile phone subscriptions in the world is set to exceed the number of people soon, a report by the World Bank has concluded.

More than six billion phones are now in use, up from fewer than one billion in 2000, with around three-quarters of the world's inhabitants now having access to a mobile phone.

The world population is estimated to be at least seven billion.

The report says: 'The mobile communications story is moving to a new level, which is not so much about the phone but how it is used.'

It adds: 'Ownership of multiple subscriptions is becoming increasingly common, suggesting that their number will soon exceed that of the human population.'

The research was carried out jointly by the bank and infoDev, its technology entrepreneurship and innovation programme.

According to Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximizing Mobile, more than 30 billion mobile apps were downloaded in 2011.

The report said that in developing countries, citizens are increasingly using mobile phones to create new livelihoods and enhance their lifestyles, while governments are using them to improve service delivery and citizen feedback mechanisms.

'Mobile communications offer major opportunities to advance human and economic development - from providing basic access to health information to making cash payments, spurring job creation, and stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes,' said World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte.

'The challenge now is to enable people, businesses, and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally-relevant mobile applications so they can take full advantage of these opportunities.'

The new report analyses the growth and evolution of mobile telephony, and the rise of data-based services, including apps, delivered to handheld devices.

It explores the consequences for development of the emerging 'app economy', especially in agriculture, health, financial services and government, and how it is changing approaches to entrepreneurship and employment.

'The mobile revolution is right at the start of its growth curve: mobile devices are becoming cheaper and more powerful while networks are doubling in bandwidth roughly every 18 months and expanding into rural areas,' said Tim Kelly, Lead ICT Policy Specialist at the World Bank and one of the authors of the report.

The report emphasises the role of governments in enabling mobile application development.

It also highlights how mobile innovation labs (mLabs) - shared spaces for training developers and incubating start-ups - can help bring new apps to market.

For instance, infoDev, in collaboration with the Government of Finland and Nokia, has established five regional mLabs in Armenia, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, and Vietnam.