Mobile subscribers to surpass five billion in 2017


Unique mobile subscribers will increase to 5.7 billion by the end of the decade

Mobile World Congress: The number of unique mobile subscribers around the world will surpass five billion later this year, according to a new GSMA study. The 2017 global edition of the GSMA’s ‘Mobile Economy’ report reveals that the five billion-subscriber milestone will be achieved by mid year 2017 and will increase to 5.7 billion by the end of the decade. By that point, almost three quarters of the world’s population will be subscribed to a mobile service. Subscriber growth over this period will be driven primarily by large Asia markets such as India, which alone is forecast to add 310 million new unique subscribers by 2020.

The study also highlights the ongoing shift to mobile broadband networks and smartphones, paving the way towards the 5G era, and the mobile industry’s growing contribution to the global economy, jobs and social development.

By the end of 2016 there were 4.8 billion unique mobile subscribers and 7.9 billion SIM connections worldwide, said the GSMA. More than half of connections (55%) were running on mobile broadband (3G/4G) networks, which are forecast to account for almost three quarters of connections by 2020. The proportion of 4G connections alone is forecast to almost double from 23% to 41% by the end of the decade, a result of ongoing investments in 4G networks by operators. At the end of 2016, 580 4G (LTE) networks had been launched across 188 countries, providing 4G coverage to approximately 60 per cent of the global population.

Looking further ahead, the study predicts that the first commercial 5G networks (based on LTE Release 15) will launch in 2019 and will provide coverage to a third of the world’s population by 2025. The number of 5G connections is forecast to reach 1.1 billion by that time.

It is calculated that mobile technologies and services accounted for 4.4% of global GDP in 2016, equivalent to around $3.3 trillion of economic value. This is forecast to increase to more than $4.2 trillion by 2020, or 4.9% of projected global GDP, as countries around the world continue to benefit from the improvements in productivity and efficiency made possible by mobile technology. The mobile ecosystem directly and indirectly supported 28.5 million jobs in 2016, a figure expected to increase to 30.9 million by 2020.

“Mobile is a global platform that today supports two thirds of the world’s population, delivering the connectivity and infrastructure that is powering new digital economies and addressing socioeconomic challenges,” said Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA. “Our latest Mobile Economy report reveals how the near ubiquity of smartphones and high speed connectivity is enabling innovation in areas such as artificial intelligence and driving the digital transformation. Mobile operators have invested over a trillion dollars in their networks since 2010 and will invest a further $700 billion over the remainder of the decade as we enter the 5G era.”

The mobile sector is also making a growing contribution to public sector funding. It is forecast that that the industry will contribute $500 billion in the form of general taxation in 2020, up from $450 billion last year. This does not include government revenue raised via spectrum auctions, which totalled almost $19 billion in 2016.

The report also highlights the leading role the mobile industry is playing in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly in areas such as financial inclusion (supporting SDG 1), health (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5) and infrastructure (SDG 9). Mobile networks are also pivotal in extending internet access to as much of the world’s population as possible. The number of individuals accessing the internet over mobile devices has doubled over the past five years to 3.6 billion, and will rise to 4.7 billion, equivalent to 60% of the global population, by 2020.


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