Two-Thirds of World Population Now Uses Mobility Services
It may soon be possible — theoretically, anyway — to reach any human via mobile. A new report from GSMA Intelligence shows that more than 5 billion people now use mobility services around the world, an astounding figure considering the entire human population is just north of 7.5 billion, according to Worldometers.
GSMA Intelligence’s estimate of the number of mobile subscribers is notably smaller than the number of global mobile connections, which currently stands at around 7.7 billion, excluding machine-to-machine links. As defined by GSMA, a unique subscriber can have multiple connections or SIM cards.
A Planet Driven by Mobility Services
GSMA’s real-time data shows how quickly mobility services have grown in a short time. For instance, it took wireless providers just four years to add the latest 1 billion subscribers. Back in 2003, the global tally of unique subscribers was a relatively modest 1 billion, according to Wireless Week.
Mats Granryd, director general for the GSMA, said reaching this milestone is huge for such a young industry and reflects the many billions of dollars mobile operators have invested in networks, services and spectrum.
He added that the massive reach of mobility services has created social and economic opportunities for people around the world and has enabled mobile providers to play a key role in global initiatives such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 1 to end poverty everywhere.
Focus on Developing Regions
Sustaining rapid mobile growth will require a sharp focus on developing regions, as developed markets are nearly at the mobile saturation point. For instance, sub-Saharan Africa is the least-penetrated market, with 44 percent of citizens subscribing to a mobile service, according to GSMA. In comparison, Europe is the most highly penetrated market, at 86 percent.
Meanwhile, 55 percent of mobile subscribers live in the Asia Pacific region, which includes China and India, the world’s two largest wireless markets. China accounts for more than 1 billion mobile subscribers, and India has 730 million, according to the report.
GSMA predicts that by 2020, more than 5.7 billion people — nearly three-quarters of the world’s population — will subscribe to mobility services. India will account for the largest share of that growth, particularly in the nation’s less-developed regions.
“Subscriber growth opportunities over the coming years will be focused on connecting mainly rural, low-income populations,” Granryd said. “Operators are developing a range of sustainable solutions to deliver affordable connectivity to underserved communities.”
The Role of 5G
In developed regions where subscriber growth is slowing, wireless providers are upgrading their mobile ecosystems to 5G technology, which promises wider bandwidth and lower latency. However, even after 5G networks become available to subscribers — probably around 2022 — analysts estimate LTE networks will continue to do the heavy lifting for years, carrying more than 80 percent of all mobile traffic.