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Global mobile penetration — subscribers versus connections

Our latest research compares the number of individual mobile subscribers (ie people) to the number of mobile connections (subscriptions) worldwide. The former represents unique users that subscribe to mobile services, while the latter typically represents the number of registered SIM cards on mobile networks.

The assumption that the number of connections reflects the number of individuals subscribed to a network is increasingly a misleading one. The picture is being distorted by a significant number of inactive SIMs being included by operators in their reported connection totals, and by multiple SIM ownership, as many mobile consumers actively use more than one SIM card each.

Our research shows that:

  • Total connections, excluding M2M, stand at 6.6 billion in 2012 globally
  • 10% of total connections are considered inactive, bringing the active total down to 5.9 billion
  • Consumers use on average 1.85 SIM cards each, implying that the total number of unique mobile subscribers worldwide stands at 3.2 billion in 2012, forecast to grow to 4 billion in five years
  • Global penetration calculated on a connections basis is set to pass 100% next year, while unique subscriber penetration is just 45% in 2012, reflecting a substantial growth opportunity

Our primary research was conducted in 2009, 2011 and 2012 across 39 countries, representing about 75% of global connections. There was an even split between developed and developing economies.

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