Mobile Internet Subscriptions to Overtake Total Internet Users by 2017

The influence of mobile connections as a means of accessing the web will be further underlined in 2017, as more mobile subscriptions will be used to come online than the total number of Internet users worldwide. This will be made possible largely due to homes having multiple web-enabled SIM cards to use for various devices (smartphones, tablets and others). Emerging countries are set to experience an especially rapid growth in mobile Internet uptake, as more local consumers leapfrog their developed-country counterparts by moving directly to wireless digital devices rather than purchasing PCs. This trend will have a reverberating effect on segments such as mobile advertising, e-commerce and the app market.


  • In 2017, the world’s total number of mobile Internet subscriptions will reach 3.2 billion, overtaking for the first time the total number of Internet users at 3.1 billion. Although as of 2014, the predominant share of the global online audience was already accessing the Internet through their mobile device, this milestone demonstrates the incessant demand for mobile connectivity;
  • Most of the mobile web expansion will be driven by emerging economies, where consumers will often access the web for the first time from their smartphone. In 2014, for example, emerging economies saw annual mobile Internet subscription growth at almost triple the rate of developed countries, at 27.6% versus 9.5;
  • However, by 2017 still only a minority of global mobile subscriptions will be web-enabled, at 42.1%. This is largely because many rural and low-income regions do not possess the telecom infrastructure necessary to channel wireless Internet connections. High monthly and data tariffs in countries with uncompetitive mobile markets are also a barrier to improved mobile web uptake. However, mobile projects such as China’s US$6.9 billion 4G infrastructure initiative launched in 2014 are set to significantly improve mobile access once they mature;
  • The knock-on effect of more mobile Internet users will be considerable on mobile-based segments. The global retail value of the mobile games market will expand by 19.0% in real terms over 2015-2017 to reach US$8.0 billion, while mobile Internet retailing will expand by 56.6% in real terms over the same period to reach US$337 billion. Opportunities for mobile apps, retail platforms and advertising channels will grow in tandem with a larger mobile audience;
  • The Chinese market will be one of the big winners from the global mobile web revolution, expanding its global dominance in the segment to over one-fifth of total mobile Internet subscriptions in the world by 2017. Similarly populated India will remain an underachiever in this regard, representing just over 3.0% of the world’s subscriptions. There remains a lack of mobile local content for emerging market users, and opportunities lie in delivering more native-language services across such markets.


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