Mobile subscribers to hit four billion by 2017

19 October 2012 |


Worldwide mobile penetration stands at 45% with mobile subscribers set to hit four billion within five years, driven by developing markets, according to new research from the GSMA.

The global three-year study examined the total number of mobile connections and also the number of individual mobile subscribers in 39 developed and developing markets.

While mobile connections were forecast to total 6.8 billion, including M2M communications, and 5.9 billion without M2M and inactive SIM cards, consumers were found to use an average of 1.85 SIM cards each, meaning the actual total of mobile subscribers was estimated at 3.2 billion by Q4 2012.

In 2013 global penetration based on total connections will exceed 100%, according to the report, while mobile subscriber penetration will only stand at 45% 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% of the world’s population has subscribed to mobile services.”

From these results the study found that future mobile subscriber growth will be driven by demand among unconnected populations in developing countries, particularly in rural areas, which are estimated to account for 1.8 billion people through the next five years.

The report forecasts that by 2017 subscriber penetration in developed countries will pass 80% and growth is expected to slow as a result.

Developing markets, however, are expected to experience an increase in subscriber penetration from 39% in 2012 to 47% in 2017, and as a result be the main factor contributing to global mobile growth over the next five years.

Europe was found to have the highest mobile penetration in the world with Denmark, Finland, Germany and the UK already averaging close to 90% subscriber penetration. In contrast, Africa had the lowest penetration standing at approximately 33% of subscribers in 2012. This is expected to increase to 40% by 2017.

Asian subscriber penetration was found to stand at 40% and is expected to grow to 49% by 2017, with Chinese subscriber penetration set to grow from 43% to 52%.

“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,” said 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.”