4bn mobile users by end of 2008

At the end of 2008, there will be four billion global mobile subscriptions, according to forecasts from Informa Telecoms & Media.

Assuming that the world's four billionth mobile subscription comes during the fourth quarter of 2008, it will have taken just five full quarters for the latest billion net additions.

The engine for this rapid growth has been the tremendous consumer demand seen in emerging markets, such as China and India, where in each of these countries there have been over 50 million new mobile subscriptions in the last six months alone, as well as significant growth in markets such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Brazil.       

The rise of global mobile subscription numbers is, however, set to slow; we suggest the fifth billionth subscription will be signed during 4Q 2011, with worldwide penetration reaching more than 70% by this time. Only in Africa will penetration at the end of 2011 still be below 50%.

It is simply untenable for the extraordinary growth witnessed over the last 18 months to continue. Even taking the fastest growing regions of Asia Pacific and Africa into account, where we will see well over 20% year-on-year growth in subscription numbers this year, our forecasts suggest that this growth rate will slow to below 10% in 2010.

Growth (%) 2008 2013
Global 17.652.23
Middle East 37.332.38
Asia Pacific21.982.83
Latin America 15.972.24
North America 7.031.67
East Europe 12.950.67
West Europe7.641.07

Figure: Global mobile subscription growth forecast, by region 2008 and 2013    
Source: Informa Telecoms & Media

Growth (%) 2008 2013
Global 4,022,681,4005,320,666,600
Middle East 143,967,700197,373,900
Asia Pacific1,764,670,1002,534,410,800
Latin America 441,630,800560,349,800
North America 294,174,200342,575,300
East Europe 446,604,800533,898,400
West Europe576,273,500653,530,100

Number of global mobile subscriptions forecast, by region 2008 and 2013  
Source: Informa Telecoms & Media

No of net additions

Top 10 markets by net additions, H108 
Source: Informa Telecoms & Media

Facing the reality of this slowdown in growth, the world's largest mobile operators are broadening, and in some cases reconsidering their strategic thinking.


Informa Telecoms & Media's "Mobile Operator Strategies" report studies the parallel business lines being assumed by the likes of Vodafone, China Mobile and Telenor. On the one hand, the extension of basic mobile connectivity to new lower-income groups remains central to their strategic direction, but increasingly so too is the accelerating collision of broadband Internet and mobility.

Mobile broadband services, and in particular the evolution of HSPA, have reinvented the business case for 3G technologies and as a result mobile Internet services are helping to provide operators with new business streams, particularly within higher-income groups.

Allied to this, emerging markets are no longer quite as attractive as they once were as the race to extend rural network coverage has given the ultimate challenge to operators - how best to reach out to low income groups and still make a profit. It is no longer just about the quantity of subscriptions, but also the value that can be attributed to these subscriptions.

Nick Jotischky, principal analyst, Informa