The GSMA today announced the results of a global, multi-year study that for the first time examines not only the total number of mobile connections, but also the number of individual mobile subscribers, defined as the unique users subscribed to mobile services. The primary research, undertaken by the GSMA’s Wireless Intelligence team over three years and across 39 developed and developing markets, found that:
By Q4 2012, total mobile connections will stand at 6.8 billion including machine-to machine (M2M) communications, or 5.9 billion excluding M2M and inactive SIM cards.
With consumers using an average of 1.85 SIM cards each, the total number of mobile subscribers globally will stand at 3.2 billion by Q4 2012, growing to 4 billion within the next five years.
Global penetration based on total connections is set to exceed 100 per cent in 2013, with mobile subscriber penetration standing at only 45 per cent by the end of 2012.
“This research, for the first time, highlights the difference between mobile connections and individual mobile subscribers, and points to a significant growth opportunity for the mobile industry as we continue to connect the world’s population,” said Anne Bouverot, Director General of the GSMA. “By identifying inactive SIMs and multiple SIM ownership, we have developed the most accurate measurement of the global mobile subscriber base, which shows that only 45 per cent of the world’s population has subscribed to mobile services.”
The study found that future mobile subscriber growth will be driven by demand among currently ‘unconnected’ populations in developing countries, particularly those in rural areas, which the research estimates to be 1.8 billion people throughout the next five years. By 2017, subscriber penetration in developed countries is set to have passed 80 per cent2 and growth in these markets is expected to slow. In contrast, subscriber penetration across developing economies is forecast to increase from 39 per cent in 2012 to 47 per cent in 2017, and will be the largest factor spurring the global growth of mobile over the next five years.
Europe has the highest mobile penetration in the world, with countries such as Denmark, Finland, Germany and the UK already averaging close to 90 per cent subscriber penetration. Africa currently has the lowest penetration, with only one out of three people in the region subscribing to mobile services in 2012, a figure that is expected to increase to 40 per cent in 2017. In Asia, subscriber penetration stands 40 per cent, and is expected to grow to 49 per cent by 2017. In China, the world’s largest mobile market, subscriber penetration will grow from 43 per cent to 52 per cent over the next five years.
“In developing markets, where there is clearly an opportunity for growth for the mobile industry, SIM per user patterns are influenced by cost-conscious, low-usage consumers who tend to accumulate prepaid SIM cards depending on the latest and most affordable prepaid tariffs,” continued Bouverot. “In developed markets, SIM per user patterns are influenced by the ownership of smartphones, tablets and other devices connected to mobile broadband networks and through the wider availability of shared data plans.”
According to the research, approximately a third of the world’s population of 7 billion are unlikely to be able to subscribe to mobile services for a variety of reasons4, resulting in an ‘addressable’ mobile subscriber base of around 5 billion. Wireless Intelligence predicts that the mobile industry will reach the 5 billion users milestone over the next decade as network expansion continues to progress in developing markets and as people in rural areas, many of whom currently live on less than $2 a day, subscribe to mobile services.
In India, according to figures from the World Bank and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), approximately half a billion people in the country’s rural areas are unconnected to mobile networks, with rural mobile penetration of 39 per cent. Rural penetration tends to grow slowly and, even when coverage has been deployed on a nationwide basis, it takes time for users to adopt mobile services. For example, in several African markets, such as Malawi, even though mobile coverage is close to 95 per cent of the population, connections penetration still stands at only 29 per cent in Q2 2012.