ITU data suggest that the number of mobile cellular subscribers surpassed the 3 billion mark – close to 50 percent of the world’s population – in August 2007. Mobile growth rates have been high across almost all regions and the number of subscribers has grown between 20 to 30 percent globally since 2000, when they stood at 12 percent. In many developing regions, including Africa, where fixed lines remain very limited, the mobile success story has been critical for enhancing access to telecommunications. During 2006 alone, Africa added over 60 million mobile cellular subscribers to its subscriber base and the continent’s mobile growth rate has been close to 50 percent annually over the last years.
At current growth rates, global mobile penetration is expected to reach 50 percent by early 2008. While in theory this would imply that every second person owns or uses a mobile phone, the statistic needs some clarification. Indeed, double counting takes place when consumers subscribe to multiple services. Also, operators’ methods for counting active prepaid subscribers vary, often inflating the actual number of people that use a mobile phone. On the other hand, some subscribers, particularly in developing countries, share their mobile phone with others, thus spreading its benefits. Finally, and despite high growth rates in the mobile sector, major differences in mobile penetration rates still exist between regions and within countries.
A look at the BRIC economies, shows that Brazil, Russia, India and China – four economies that are expected to have an increasingly important impact in terms of population, resources and global GDP share – alone represent almost one billion mobile subscribers in 2007; that is almost one third of the world’s total. Add the mobile subscribers in the USA, Japan and Indonesia, and the total number of subscribers in these seven countries add up to half of the world’s total.