Emerging markets, new players to drive growth

We do not expect the growth potential for China and India to recede over the next five years. It is these two markets, along with rapidly growing markets such as Bangladesh, which will power 77% connections growth between 2008 and 2013 in the China-India region.

However, we are not being overly bullish, as penetration for the region is forecast at just 67% - over double the rate for 2007, but lower than every region except Africa in 2013. They are quite simply extraordinarily large markets with rapidly growing populations.

Africa is separated in our figures for the first time and accounts for the second-fastest growth rate over the forecast period (54%). Relatively ignored by external players in the past, the region's extremely low mobile penetration has prompted huge interest recently. As a result of this increasing investment and competition in the region, we strongly expect connections growth to take off over the next five years.

Ultimately, growth in these regions plus Asia-Pacific and Latin America will see a continuing shift in the balance of the global mobile subscriber base by 2013. Whereas in 2007 the most highly penetrated regions (North America and Europe) accounted for 33% of connections, in 2013 they will contribute just 24%.

A shift in the balance of power is also expected at an operator level, with an increasing share of customers in emerging markets going to the new, rapidly expanding players such as Zain and Orascom.

We also think that one of the impacts of the current economic situation is that cash-rich operators from the "mega-markets" of Russia and China have the potential to expand their global footprints as assets become more affordable.

The result will be a raft of large-scale global players by 2013. Today's European-based giants will face increasingly intense competition from equally large or larger competitors at both global and local levels. Efficiency and maximizing synergies from their scale will be the critical success factor for both the old and new heavyweights.

Efficiency is critical

By 2013 the total service revenues to operators globally is forecast at $1.1 trillion, up 23% from 2008. However, this is a significantly lower growth rate than the 43% jump in connections. The sheer volume of connections in emerging markets will be crucial in enabling operators to breach the $1 trillion service revenues threshold (expected in 2010).

Nonetheless it is clear that operators seeking connections growth will need to ensure that they can survive on very low ARPU. Again, the critical need for efficiency among the global players is paramount.

As a result of the increasing emphasis on emerging markets, voice will remain the most crucial revenue generator for operators, contributing 73% of global revenues in 2013.

Furthermore, voice will continue to be the greatest cash generator in every region by 2013, including Europe and North America. With all the excitement surrounding mobile data it is easy to lose sight of the fact that communication is still the "killer application" for the telecoms industry. Operators must not "kill the cash cow" and should focus on offering voice services as cost-effectively as possible, while maintaining quality.

Although voice will be the largest revenue contributor in 2013, growth in global voice revenues between 2008 and 2013 is forecast to be just 10%.


In comparison, data (including messaging) is forecast to grow 79% globally over the coming five years. After years of false starts 2008 has finally seen data services take off.

Data growth

Staying with the emerging market theme, this is not just a developed market phenomenon. Aside from the growth in messaging expected through emerging market connection growth, there is also the enormous potential for mobile data access services, either through the handset or via a computer. Where fixed broadband access is limited then mobile broadband offers a viable alternative, either through mobile Wimax or HSPA.

However, it is the developed markets that will be key to data revenue growth, accounting for 52% of data revenues in 2013. Of particular note are our bullish growth forecasts for mobile data revenues in North America. In the past North America's mobile industry has been perceived as somewhat "backward" in comparison to other regions, particularly western Europe. However, the huge progress made in the US over the past couple of years, combined with aggressive next-generation migration plans, leads us to think that North America will take a far more leading position in the future.

Also significant is the shift in the make up of the data revenue in developed markets. SMS pricing is likely to be eroded in competitive markets, so internet access will become increasingly important.

It is important to note that we believe that access and not content will be key. We do not believe that many operators will be successful in providing content. Players from outside the operator domain will be better placed and demand will be for access from the operator.

And what of these Internet players‾ Will Google and Apple destroy the mobile operators‾ We think not. They may take content revenues from the operators, but access will more than compensate. They also offer operators new service opportunities through partnerships. In our opinion operators have more to fear over the next five years from rival operators than from external players.

Steven Hartley, Senior Analyst, Mobile practice