At present, MVNOs are predominantly a feature of well-developed telecom markets – most notably in Western Europe, North America and a small number of other countries.
While MVNOs have succeeded in growing their share of these mature markets, the growth trend is obscured when looking at the global picture. Worldwide the statistics show that the growth in MVNO subscribers has not kept pace with the overall growth in wireless subscribers. But this is misleading. Globally, growth in wireless subscribers has been driven predominantly by explosive growth in a small number of developing countries, such as China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan. These are countries in which MVNOs are either prohibited or at a nascent stage of development.
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To clarify the numbers, in 2003 MVNOs accounted for 7% of subscribers in Western Europe and North America. At the end of June 2009 wireless subscribers had grown by almost 60% in these two regions to reach 800 million, and MVNOs’ share had increased to over 9%. In contrast, from 2003 to mid-2009 the number of wireless subscribers in regions other than Western Europe and North America more than quadrupled to reach some 3.5 billion. However, MVNOs have yet to make much impact in these higher growth markets: outside of Western Europe and North America, their share of the market remains less than 0.5%. So while MVNOs have been growing strongly in Western Europe and North America, those two regions account for an ever-smaller portion of the world’s wireless subscriber base – it slipped from almost 40% to less than 20%.
In summary the numbers show that globally MVNOs’ share of wireless subscribers has dropped from almost 3% in 2003 to its current level of just over 2%. But the reality is also that MVNOs have managed to gradually increase their market share in well-developed mature markets, while gaining some important toeholds in other markets around the world.
In 2003, Western Europe and North America accounted for well over 90% of all MVNO subscribers and, despite some growth elsewhere, these two regions still account for over 80% of the total. TeleGeography’s latest research predicts that MVNO growth will gain momentum all around the world over the coming five years. 'As markets approach maturity and as regulatory regimes look to increase competition and to better serve diverse populations, MVNOs will be allowed to launch services in many new countries,' said TeleGeography senior research analyst David Leach. While they will continue to account for only a small percentage of wireless subscribers, TeleGeography forecasts this will be a growing market niche. 'Future MVNOs can learn from the successes and failures of the past five years, and as they do, we predict that the global MVNO subscriber base will more than double in size over the next four years,' added Leach.