New figures show global mobile penetration lower than first thought

The GSM Association has revealed results of a three-year research project, showing that only 45 per cent of the world-wide population is subscribed to mobile services, leaving much room for global industry growth.

The study, released on Thursday, for the first time excludes inactive mobile subscriptions and multiple SIM card ownership, revealing real figures of mobile network subscription worldwide, pointing to drastically smaller mobile service subscription rates than previously envisaged.

The survey – conducted over three years taking into account 39 developed and developing markets – finds that by the end of the fourth quarter of 2012, there will be only 3.2 billion mobile network subscribers globally, accounting for 45 per cent of the global population, a figure which may grow to 4 billion within the following five years.

The figure for total global mobile connections including inactive SIM cards and so-called machine-to-machine (M2M) calls will stand at 6.8 billion – however, this figure has been misleading as to worldwide connectivity rates in the past, in that many subscribers have multiple connections.

The new element to the research showing that only 3.2 billion unique users are subscribed to mobile services around the world means that, in fact, the mobile network industry has a long way to go before reaching 100 percent global mobile penetration, and indicates that industry actors still have everything to play for, in a market that still holds endless potential.

Director General of the GSM Association Anne Bouverot said in a press statement: “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.”

She added: “By identifying inactive SIMs and multiple SIM ownership, we have developed the most accurate measurement of the global mobile subscriber base”.

The survey reports that global increases in unique mobile subscriptions over the coming years will be fuelled by demand from developing countries, with demand from users in rural areas set to spike significantly – the survey expecting 1.8 billion new users from developing countries within the next five years.

New subscriptions in line with the survey’s forecast would achieve 47 percent mobile subscriber penetration across developing countries by 2017, up from the current figure of 39 percent.

Conversely growth of mobile penetration levels in developed countries is predicted to be slow, given that by 2017 it is thought that penetration in such countries will hit 80 percent.

The GSM Association reports that Africa currently displays the lowest levels of mobile service unique subscription penetration, with only one in three members of the African population subscribed to mobile services. The report predicts this figure will rise to 40 percent penetration by 2017. This is to be compared to a current figure of 68 percent for total connections penetration – the two measurements displaying a substantial gap. As such, Africa presents the mobile industry with significant potential for growth.

Bouverot explained the relatively late revelation of the lower-than-expected African subscription rates, saying: “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.” Figures were thus skewed by the prevalence of multiple SIM ownership.

Posted in: Mobile

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