Data from TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database reveal that global mobile subscribers have reached 7.1 billion, up from just seven million in 1989, and that the number of mobile lines in service will surpass the world’s population later this year. Even so, regional differences in wireless penetration and subscriber composition leave significant opportunity for growth in some areas.
Asia is home to 3.7 billion mobile subscribers, and continues to fuel global growth. Between Q1 2014 and Q1 2015, Asia added 194 million subscribers, or over 60 per cent of net new global wireless subscribers. Still however, the Asian mobile market is far from saturated, as there are over 270 million people without a mobile phone. China and India alone account for 2.3 billion subscribers, but while China has emerged as a meaningful 4G market with 162 million LTE subscribers, 90 per cent of Indian mobile subscribers remain on 2G networks, driving the region’s ongoing reliance on the legacy technology.
There is also room for continued growth throughout Africa, where wireless penetration stands at just 81 per cent – well below that of any other region. 2G remains the dominant mobile technology, by far, accounting for over 75 per cent of the continent’s 912 million subscribers. While 3G continues to gain popularity as it becomes more widely available, LTE is still almost nonexistent in Africa, with less than half of one percent of mobile subscribers using the technology as of Q1 2015.
Conversely, the 138 per cent wireless penetration rate in Europe is the highest of any region, and mobile subscribers there fell by six million in the past year due to several factors including market saturation and the weak macroeconomic situation. While eastern and western countries each account for about half of the region’s one billion subscribers, migration to 3G and LTE has been much slower in east, where 61 per cent of subscribers remain on 2G networks. In the more developed markets of Western Europe, half of mobile subscribers are 3G, and LTE take-up has been relatively rapid with a 17 per cent market share.
The US remains at the forefront of LTE adoption, which has driven steady mobile subscriber growth across North America. Between Q1 2014 and Q1 2015, the share of regional wireless subscribers using LTE grew from 35 per cent to over 50 per cent, while 2G’s share fell from 15 per cent to just seven per cent. By the end of this year, North American wireless penetration is expected to reach 100 per cent.
“Despite widespread mobile subscriber increases, growth is not as rapid as it once was,” said TeleGeography analyst Mark Gibson. “While opportunities for ongoing subscriber gains remain in some areas, many operators in developed, highly-penetrated markets are turning their focus elsewhere, to goals such as ARPU stabilisation via the migration of customers to 3G and 4G plans, user retention in the battle with low-cost MVNOs, and achieving growth via M&A activity.”