Global mobile penetration hits 50%

Figures released by industry analyst Informa Telecoms & Media reveal that worldwide mobile penetration will hit 50 per cent – or around 3.3 billion subscriptions – today, 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 Saudi Arabia and Scandinavia, the now ubiquitous mobile phone has become one of the world’s great success stories.

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

No. of mobile networks worldwide

Year (end) No. of countries with networks
1982     6
1987     35
1992     97
1997     192
2002     215
2007 (Sept.)     224

Source: Informa Telecoms & Media

The challenge now is connecting the bottom of the pyramid:
Reaching the bottom of the pyramid


  1. Avatar Jan 29/11/2007 @ 3:38 pm

    To be fair, NMT was perhaps the first automatically switched system(?), but not really the first mobile network. The first mobile telephony network was probably the MTS system, which launched in St. Louis (USA) in 1946 (operator switched).

    MTA launched in Sweden in 1956, OLT launched in Norway in 1966, ARP in Finland in 1971 and MTD (replacing MTA) in Sweden in 1971. They were all manually switched by an operator.

    I’ve myself used an ARP phone as late as 1989 (which I inherited from my father), before buying my first NMT phone in 1990. Indeed, we’ve come a long way since those days.

  2. Pingback: Treo Today » Blog Archive » 50% of people on Earth are now connected via mobile

  3. Avatar Osas 18/12/2007 @ 4:01 pm

    Celtel in Nigeria is already giving coverage to over 95% of NIgeria population of about 140million. Though the total number of customers in networks combined is about 42million which leaves room for more articulated marketing to have more subcribers. Celtel is propecting to have 40 million subscribers in the next 2 years and with new packages i.e HSDPA and plans towards LTE, we are going to witness an upsurge in subsrcriber base and increase in ARPU.

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