One billion new unique mobile subscribers by 2020


2015 Mobile Economy report shows rapid global migration to mobile broadband networks


Mobile World Congress: An additional one billion people will become mobile subscribers over the next five years, according to a major new GSMA report published at Mobile World Congress today.

The new report, ‘The Mobile Economy: 2015’, forecasts that the number of unique mobile subscribers will increase from 3.6 billion at the end of 2014 to 4.6 billion by 2020, increasing by 4% (CAGR) over this period. By 2020, almost 60% of the global population will subscribe to mobile services, up from half of the population at the end of 2014.

The study also highlights a rapid migration to 3G and 4G mobile broadband networks and rising smartphone adoption, which is fuelling growth in new mobile data services and applications. As the mobile ecosystem continues to expand in reach and size, the mobile industry is forecast to make an increasing contribution to global GDP, public funding and employment, as well as improving the lives of billions of citizens around the world.

“A decade ago, just one in five of the global population was a mobile subscriber; we have now surpassed the 50% milestone and can look forward to connecting a billion new subscribers over the next five years,” commented Anne Bouverot, director general of the GSMA. “Mobile sits at the heart of a new ecosystem that is uniting the digital and physical worlds, and powering economic growth. At the same time, mobile operators continue to deploy networks to all corners of the globe, connecting unconnected citizens and addressing socio-economic challenges in areas such as digital and financial inclusion, healthcare and education.”

Mobile penetration varies widely by global region. In Europe, nearly 80% of the population were mobile subscribers at the end of 2014, while in Sub-Saharan Africa the figure is only 39%. Global subscriber growth over the next five years will therefore be concentrated in the developing world, driven by the increasing affordability of mobile devices and services and rapidly expanding mobile coverage that serves to connect currently unconnected populations, especially those in rural areas.

The number of global SIM connections2 (excluding M2M connections) is forecast to grow from 7.1 billion in 2014 to 9 billion by 2020. This implies that every unique mobile subscriber will continue to account for roughly 1.8 SIM cards each, on average, during this period. Cellular M2M connections are forecast to reach 1 billion by 2020, bringing the total number of mobile connections to 10 billion by this point.

The period out to 2020 will see a rapid migration to mobile broadband technology as 3G and 4G network availability and affordability increases. Mobile broadband accounted for 40% of SIM connections in 2014, but will increase to almost 70% of the total by 2020 as subscribers migrate away from 2G networks and devices. As well as expanding 3G and 4G coverage reach, this trend is being driven by the rising number of smartphone connections. Smartphones accounted for 37% of SIM connections in 2014, a figure forecast to rise to 65% by 2020.

The smartphone adoption rate is already at 60% in the developed world, ranging from 51% of SIM connections in Europe to 70% in North America. The developing world will lead smartphone growth over the next five years as the average selling price of smartphones continues to decline, adding a further 2.9 billion smartphone connections by 2020.

The increasing use of mobile broadband-enabled smartphones is fuelling an explosion in mobile data traffic. According to Cisco (Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2014–2019) global mobile data volumes are forecast to grow at a CAGR of 57% through to 2019, reaching 24,314 petabytes per month by that point, a result of rising on-demand video consumption via mobile devices.

Mobile operators are making significant investments in next generation mobile networks to meet capacity demands and expand coverage reach. In 2014, mobile operators invested around $216 billion in capital expenditure (Capex), a 9% year on year increase. Investment levels are forecast to reach a cumulative $1.4 trillion in the six years from 2015 through to 2020.

The mobile industry is a cornerstone of the global economy. In 2014, the mobile industry contributed $3 trillion to the world’s economy, equivalent to 3.8% of global GDP. By 2020, it is estimated that the contribution from the industry will increase to $3.9 trillion, representing 4.2% of projected global GDP by this point.

The mobile industry directly employed 12.8 million people globally in 2014 and indirectly supported a further 11.8 million jobs, bringing the total to 24.6 million. By 2020, this figure is forecast to reach 28.7 million, with 15.3 million men and women directly employed by the industry. Even without factoring in spectrum fees – which generated more than $14 billion in revenue for governments worldwide last year – it is estimated that the mobile industry contributed $411 billion to public finances in 2014 via taxation and social security contributions.


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