The mobile industry is “growing strongly but unevenly” according to a new International Telecommunications Union (ITU) report, which estimates mobile cellular subscriptions will reach 7.1 billion by the end of 2015.
The figure, which will nearly rival the world’s total population, is the equivalent to a global penetration rate of 97 mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 capita. ITU estimates the figure will grow to 9.2 billion by 2020.
Meanwhile, mobile broadband, which ITU proclaims as “the fastest growing ICT service in history, taking just five years to achieve one billion users”, will reach 3.5 billion subscriptions by the end of this year.
Industry analysts predict this figure will grow to 6.5 billion (accounting for 3G/4G/5G) by 2019.
ITU said a direct comparison cannot be drawn between mobile cellular and mobile broadband, because the latter also takes into account connectivity through dongles.
The State of Broadband report, published annually, provides a country by country breakdown based on access and affordability for fixed and mobile connectivity in over 160 economies worldwide.
Asia leads the way
Of the entire industry, “growth in telecoms is not consistent across different regions or different players”, read the report.
Asia-Pacific leads the way in terms of mobile broadband subscribers, which accounts for 50 per cent of the global market, up from 45 per cent in 2014, while the Americas and Europe both saw declining proportional shares of mobile broadband subscribers between 2014-2015.
Europe saw its share decline from 16 per cent to 14 per cent, while the Americas dropped from 24 per cent to 22 per cent, in part due to the “rapid expansion of Asia-Pacific which is squeezing other regions in terms of regional market shares”.
In terms of LTE growth, ITU said 2014 proved to be a ‘cusp year’, when 3G started to slow, while LTE subscriptions continued to accelerate.
Citing GSMA data, ITU said 4G network infrastructure will account for much of the $1.7 trillion of expected investment by mobile operators during 2015-2020, while ABI Research forecasts investment in LTE infrastructure will grow nearly 10 per cent year on year, with subscriptions set to reach 1.37 billion by Q4 2015.
ITU said many operators in saturated markets will now focus on migrating customers to 3G and 4G to stabilise ARPU, retain customers in the face of competition, and invest in foreign markets and M&A activity to boost demand.
Some operators and incumbents in Europe “are starting to see revenues decline by at least 4 per cent on average”, according to ITU, with European mobile revenues now in a three year decline due to regulatory driven reductions in mobile termination and roaming rates.
Also in the report, ITU said mobile subscriptions now also outnumber fixed broadband subscriptions by a ratio of 4.4:1 (up from 3:1 in 2014), with smartphones now dominating mobile broadband devices.
Citing Ericsson’s mobility report, ITU said smartphone subscriptions will exceed those for basic phones by next year.