The first mobile network went commercially live
in 1979 in Tokyo, Japan and we've now had mobile telecoms for 32 years. How does this technology compare? Worldwide at the end of this year we will have 5.8 Billion total mobile phone subscriptions which would be 83% penetration rate per capita across the planet. The number of mobile phone subscriptions exceeds landlines by 5 to 1, the number of PCs (including those used at work) by 4 to 1. TV sets by 3 to 1, total internet users by more than 2 to 1, and even total radios now nearly by 1.5 to 1.
Mobile has been by far the fastest-growing technology ever. But counting active subscriptions used to be a reasonably accurate measure of real mobile phones, but that is increasingly not true anymore, as more and more of us have multiple accounts and those are not necessarily also the same as multiple phones.
The number of total mobile phone subscribers is relatively easy to calculate, as the various mobile operators/carriers report their subscriber counts. But they do not know which of their own customers also has a subscription to a rival network. I was the first analyst to report on the multiple subscription phenomenon as it was first discovered in Finland, and my consultancy has been providing the annual counts for both the unique user number and the total installed base of actively used mobile phone handsets (some who have two accounts, will have two phones - think Blackberry and iPhone - but others will only have two SIM-cards, typically pre-paid accounts to optimize costs between rival networks).
Here are my preliminary numbers for the end of 2011. The world total count of unique mobile phone users, these are actual human beings who have at least one mobile phone account and at least one actual mobile phone handset in their pocket - is 3.95 Billion people worldwide. In a very 'real' sense, of all people alive, not just households or not just adults, but all people from babies to great grandparents, and across divides of poverty, literacy, electricity and cellular connectivity - there is now a real active mobile phone account for 56% of the planet's population.
And how many handsets in use? My preliminary number for end of 2011 says 4.6 Billion actual phones in use - meaning that one in six of us, who has a mobile phone account, actually walks around with two connected phones in our pockets.
And when we know the total count of subscriptions is 5.8 Billion at the end of the year, it means that there are 1.46 actual active mobile phone accounts for every person who uses a mobile phone, worldwide. In advanced markets like in Europe and some advanced parts of Asia, it is now nearing two active phone accounts per mobile phone user.MOBILE ACROSS THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
A farmer in Ghana uses his cellphone for mobile banking services
How does this split across the Digital Divide? In the Industrial World we have 1.8 Billion mobile phone accounts for our population, i.e. an average penetration per capita of 1.52. In the Emerging World there are 4.0 Billion mobile phone accounts, for an average penetration rate per capita of 69%. When we calculate that down to unique users, in the Industrialized World we have nearly 1.1 Billion unique users, or 90% of the total population in reality has a mobile phone. In the Emerging World the number of unique users is now 2.9 Billion so this year is the point where literally there is an actual mobile phone and account for half of the total population also in the Emerging World.
Then what is the reach of mobile? Here we have one more interesting phenomenon to consider: the family-shared mobile phone. This is something only seen in quite poor regions but we do have a family shared mobile phone. My consultancy estimates that of the phones in the emerging world, about 220 million - or 7% - are shared this way.
That means that if we calculate the total reach of mobile telecoms, we get the unique users of the Industrialized World, plus the unique users of the Emerging World, and for those 220 million phones, their (reading age/talking age) family members. And here I find the total reach of mobile today to be 4.7 Billion unique users - or 67% of the planet.
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