The 3.2 billion users represent 45 percent of the world's population, a figure well short of the six billion users that has been much bandied about recently. The discrepancy, according to GSMA, stems from the fact that many users hold more than one active sim, a global average of 1.85 in fact.
GSMA says the primary research, undertaken by its Wireless Intelligence team over three years and across 39 developed and developing markets, found that:
"By Q4 2012, total mobile connections will stand at 6.8 billion including machine-to machine (M2M) communications, or 5.9 billion excluding M2M and inactive SIM cards...Global penetration based on total connections is set to exceed 100 percent in 2013, with mobile subscriber penetration standing at only 45 percent by the end of 2012."
GSMA director general, Anne Bouverot, said: "By identifying inactive SIMs and multiple SIM ownership we have developed the most accurate measurement of the global mobile subscriber base...This research, for the first time, highlights the difference between mobile connections and individual mobile subscribers, and points to a significant growth opportunity for the mobile industry as we continue to connect the world's population...
"In developed markets, SIM per user patterns are influenced by the ownership of smartphones, tablets and other devices connected to mobile broadband networks and through the wider availability of shared data plans."
The study found that future mobile subscriber growth will be driven by demand among currently 'unconnected' populations in developing countries, particularly those in rural areas, which the research estimates to be 1.8 billion people throughout the next five years.
"By 2017, subscriber penetration in developed countries is set to have passed 80 percent and growth in these markets is expected to slow. In contrast, subscriber penetration across developing economies is forecast to increase from 39 percent in 2012 to 47 per cent in 2017, and will be the largest factor spurring the global growth of mobile over the next five years," the GSMA said.
According to the research, approximately a third of the world's population of seven billion are unlikely to be able to subscribe to mobile services for a variety of reasons - including age, infirmity, lack of coverage and incarceration - resulting in an 'addressable' mobile subscriber base of around five billion.
"Wireless Intelligence predicts that the mobile industry will reach the five billion users milestone over the next decade as network expansion continues to progress in developing markets and as people in rural areas, many of whom currently live on less than $2 a day, subscribe to mobile services," GSMA said.
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