At the end of March 2009 global wireless subscribers reached 4.16 billion, an impressive 19% increase from a year earlier and not that far off the pace from what has been experienced over the last five years. However, TeleGeography's GlobalComms Insight forecasts that the average annual growth rate over the next five years will drop to 10%, and the fact that growth from 4Q 2008 to 1Q 2009 was just 4%, is one indicator of that slowdown.
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Over the next five years it is little surprise that there will be notable differences across the regions, with annual subscriber growth rates in Africa and Asia staying comfortably in the double-digit zone, while Europe and North America will be come in at less than 5% per annum. But to truly understand the growth opportunities you need to go deeper and look at individual countries. By defining 'large' wireless markets as having at least 20 million subscribers, at the end of Q1 2009 there were 37 such countries across the world. The growth rates achieved by these 37 during the past twelve months has ranged from zero to 100%, as shown in the figure above. Clearly the growth rates at the top end of the scale are not sustainable over a long period of time, but the average annual growth rate for the group over the next five years will range from 1% to 23%.
'There is a huge range in growth rates, which presents a real challenge to companies targeting the markets,' said TeleGeography executive director John Dinsdale. 'Many will be surprised by some of the countries at the extremes of this range. For example, many countries in Eastern Europe have very rapidly moved from subscriber boom to saturation and minimal growth.'