Carrier Evolution

In the fourth quarter of 2012, total mobile connections globally stood at 6.8 billion, including machine-to machine (M2M) accounts, or 5.9 billion excluding M2M and inactive SIM cards, according to GSMA Wireless Intelligence.

The role of users with multiple subscriber identification modules (SIMs) cannot be overestimated. Wireless Intelligence estimates that consumers use an average of 1.85 SIM cards each.

That suggests the actual number of mobile users (not “accounts”) actually is about 3.2 billion, not 6.8 billion or 5.9 billion, other methods of counting might suggest.

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, Wireless Intelligence says.

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 cent 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.

Wireless Intelligence predicts that the mobile industry will reach the five 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 percent.

Gross demographic subscriber assessment

(units in billion) 2012 2017
Global population * 7.0 7.4
Global mobile unique subscribers 3.2 3.9
Global unique subscriber penetration 46% 53%
Population potentially unable to subscribe ** 2.3 2.4
Addressable population 4.7 5.0
of which, unconnected due to network coverage*** 1.5 1.1
Adjusted global unique subscriber penetration 68% 78%

Total connections penetration Unique subscriber penetration
2012 2017 2012 2017
World 93% 114% 45% 53%
Africa 68% 88% 33% 40%
Americas 112% 132% 59% 64%
Northern America 108% 117% 69% 70%
Southern America 128% 156% 57% 65%
Asia 87% 110% 40% 49%
Japan 113% 132% 88% 92%
Israel 135% 152% 76% 80%
Europe 135% 152% 76% 80%
UK 123% 128% 87% 89%
Spain 119% 129% 81% 84%
Oceania 108% 119% 74% 76%
Developing 87% 110% 39% 47%
Brazil 140% 177% 58% 68%
Russia 164% 183% 73% 79%
India 76% 100% 26% 40%
China 82% 107% 43% 52%
South Africa 138% 171% 66% 79%
Developed 122% 133% 79% 81%