Across Latin America, about 27% of the total 568 million mobile subscriptions, including mobile broadband connections, are classified as multiple subscriptions - where customers have more than one SIM card, or have a portable device subscription as well as a mobile phone plan. This figure also includes double counting of subscriptions, which occur when customers change service provider. This contrasts with North America, where, although year-end penetration stood at a lower 93%, multiple SIM and portable devices of some kind and double counting only account for 14% of the overall subscription base.
"If we were to look only at unique subscribers when comparing Latin America and North America then the picture would be rather different", says Tricarico."With lower average disposable income, a high proportion of prepaid customers, who represent over 80% of the overall Latin American customer base, tend to switch SIM card to take advantage of the best prices depending on the operator and the time of the day. At the same time, an increasing number of high-value customers are adding mobile broadband to their existing voice services, sometimes to complement their existing fixed broadband, but more and more often as their primary broadband service. As a result, more people tend to have multiple subscriptions, which is pushing up the overall national penetration figures."
The rapid growth of the Brazilian mobile market, which alone accounts for 36% of all Latin American subscriptions, is boosting overall regional penetration. However, even in Brazil there were about 56 million people without a mobile subscription of some kind at the end of 2010. "In this 56 million figure, we do include the younger population of under-15s and the elderly", added Tricarico, "but it also includes a proportion of the population who, despite prices decreasing as a result of high competition, cannot afford mobile services. The fact is that penetration per se can be a misleading metric."
The marked divide between urban and rural areas is another important aspect to take into account when looking at penetration in Latin America. "In addition to the trend towards multiple SIM, one must not to forget that all Latin American markets see a high concentration of subscriptions in areas that are best served by mobile operators, which are the most developed urban areas", concluded the analyst."In Brazil, for example, the more affluent regions of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have reached 123% and 116 % penetration, respectively, but the poorer rural areas lag behind with lower penetration rates, such as 60% in the state of Maranhao and as low as 23% in some of the isolated pockets in the Amazonas. The good news is that rural connectivity is improving fast because, with urban areas approaching saturation, operators recognize that the new growth opportunity comes from the expansion of mobile coverage, including mobile broadband, to underserved areas."