Fewer new mobile subscribers, data stalls

The number of net new mobile phone subscribers in the world fell sharply in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the growth of mobile data revenues stalled for the first time, the Financial Times reports.

Figures compiled by Informa Telecoms & Media show that the total number of new subscribers to a mobile phone service fell 15% to 162 million in the final quarter of 2008, which is usually the strongest in the year because of Christmas.

Even so, by the end of 2008, there were just under 4 billion active mobile subscriptions globally, which equates to a 58% penetration rate.

The region that suffered most during the fourth quarter was Asia-Pacific, with 68.7 million net additions, down from 87.6 million previously. This represented the lowest quarterly growth in the region for seven quarters, according to the findings.

Some of the fastest-growing mobile markets - Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines - were hit particularly hard, while growth also slowed markedly in Europe, North America and Latin America.

The Middle East and Africa, where the penetration rate is 38%, proved relatively resilient.

Nick Jotischky, principal analyst for Informa, was quoted saying, "We do have to take into account the impact of market saturation and the recent restructuring of the world's largest mobile market, China, which led to a temporary slowdown in growth."

According to Informa quarterly World Cellular Data Metrics report, non-voice revenue spending fell 0.1% between the third and fourth quarters to $48.9 billion. In contrast, data revenues grew by 5% during the third quarter.

The Informa data suggests many operators in Germany, UK and Italy are experiencing a slowdown in non-voice revenue growth while in parts of Asia Pacific network operators are reporting a decline in spending, the FT said.