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Global mobile penetration hits 50% today

Figures released by industry analyst Informa Telecoms & Media reveal that worldwide mobile penetration will hit 50 per cent – or around 3.3 billion subscriptions – on Thursday, just over 26 years since the first cellular network was launched.

Since its birth in 1981, when the first mobile telephony networks were switched on in Scandinavia and Saudi Arabia, the mobile phone has become one of the world’s great success stories.

“The mobile industry has constantly outperformed even the most optimistic forecasts for subscriber growth,” said Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa Telecoms & Media. “For children growing up today the issue is not whether they will get a mobile phone, it’s a question of when.

“It is difficult to imagine how a modern economy could function without mobile telephony and a number of recent studies have shown that the mobile phone is having a hugely positive impact on the economies of emerging markets.”

As of the end of September there were operational networks in 224 countries around the globe, a figure that has increased from 192 in 1997 and 35 in 1987.

Informa estimates that mobile networks covered 90 per cent of the global population by mid-2007. This means that some 40 per cent of the world’s inhabitants are covered by a network, but not connected, and leaves just 10 per cent with neither coverage nor connection.

Although global mobile penetration – the number of mobile subscriptions worldwide – has reached 50 per cent, this does not mean that half of the 6.6 billion or so people in the world now have a mobile phone.

A large number of more mature markets worldwide already have in excess of 100 per cent mobile penetration, as users increasingly sign up for more than one subscription, while emerging markets increasingly provide the bulk of new additions.

As of the end of September, 59 countries had mobile penetration of over 100 per cent, while almost half that figure, 27, had penetration under 10 per cent.

The economic difference between the more mature markets and those in developing countries is highlighted by the vast differences in operator ARPU (Average Revenue per User).

Kuwaiti operator MTC brings in the highest ARPU in the world at the equivalent of $71 per month. But it is followed closely by Hutchison Whampoa’s 3 UK operation with an ARPU of $70.55 and Qatar operator Q-Tel with $69. Japanese operator KDDI brings in $67.65 per user per month, while Hutchison’s Austrian operation records and ARPU of $66.84.

But at the other end of the scale, Hutchison’s Sri Lankan operator only counts revenues of $2.83 per user per month, beaten narrowly by Bangladesh’s PBTL, which operates under the CityCell brand and has an ARPU of $2.98. Ukrainian operator Astelit counts user revenues of $3, as does Pakistan’s CMPak, while another Bangladeshi operator, Sheba Telecom, reports an ARPU of $3.1.

Here’s a look back over the past 26 years of mobile telephony:

The evolution of the mobile handset

Mobile penetration through history

Global mobile coverage

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