Mapping global mobile telephone subscriptions: the world’s biggest markets

China and India are the world’s biggest mobile phone markets in terms of subscriptions. They led global numbers in 2009 followed by the USA and Russia. Asia Pacific alone accounted for 46.1% of world mobile phone subscriptions in 2009.

Developing markets have seen the fastest growth in subscriptions since 2004 but penetration levels remain lower than in advanced economies, enabling further expansion. World mobile phone subscriptions will reach near universal levels in 2015-2020.

Global mobile telephone subscriptions: 2009

Source: Euromonitor International from International Telecommunications Union/World Bank/Trade SourcesNote: Refers to portable telephones personal and business subscriptions to an automatic public mobile telephone service which provides access to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) using cellular technology. This can include analogue and digital cellular systems (including micro cellular systems such as DCS-1800, Personal Handyphone System (PHS) and others) but should not include non-cellular systems. Subscribers to fixed wireless (e.g. Wireless Local Loop (WLL)) public mobile data services, or radio paging services are not included. One user can have several subscriptions.

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  • World mobile telephone subscriptions have accelerated to reach 4.6 billion in 2009 from 1.8 billion in 2004, representing growth of an average 21% per year. Asia Pacific is by the far the biggest regional mobile telephone market in the world accounting for 46.1% of the total in 2009 followed by Western Europe at 12.7% of world mobile telephone subscriptions;
  • In line with their populous economies, China and India are home to the highest number of mobile telephone subscriptions in the world at 707 million and 451 million respectively in 2009. The USA is the world’s third biggest mobile telephone market followed by emerging markets of Russia, Indonesia and Brazil;
  • Emerging countries have led the boom in mobile telephone markets as rapid economic growth has increased disposable incomes and many consumers have acquired mobile telephones for the first time. In Africa, for example, consumers have been targeted with affordable handsets, which have accelerated take-up. Growth has been from a low base with the quickest regional expansion in 2004-2009 in Africa and the Middle East with average annual growth of 39.2% compared to 25.4% annual growth in Asia Pacific and 9.0% per year in the more established market of North America;
  • In many emerging countries, mobile telephones have had faster up-take than Internet or fixed-line telephones owing to the lack of cable infrastructure, which is costly to set up in vast and remote areas. Wireless access will also enable consumers to upgrade to more sophisticated handsets for mobile Internet access. Mobile telephones help consumers bridge regional divides in developing countries through better communications and greater access to information. They improve the business environment, boost productivity, help trade and can also be used for banking services. In the Middle East and Africa in 2009, 64.9% of households had a mobile telephone compared to 11.1% owning an Internet enabled computer;
  • Despite rapid growth in emerging markets, significant potential remains as penetration rates remain much lower than in advanced economies. China, for example, only had 53 mobile telephones per 100 people in 2009 and Nigeria had 50 per 100 compared to 125 per 100 in the UK and 93 per 100 in the USA. In developed countries, consumers are replacing their fixed-lines with mobile handsets and many are upgrading to smart phones for wireless Internet access. Higher per capita incomes in advanced economies will facilitate the upgrade to higher specification models on a larger scale than in lower-income countries. Euromonitor International forecasts 6.9 billion mobile telephone subscribers worldwide by 2020.