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New analysis from Wireless Intelligence reveals that the top 25 operators and operator groups ranked by total connections now represent over 64% of all worldwide cellular connections in Q1 2009. This collective footprint, some 2.7 billion connections, spans 122 out of 223 total markets tracked. Wireless Intelligence fully aggregates total operator connections for the members of a group where the economic interest in that operator represents a majority holding (equal to or greater than 50 per cent).
Leading the field by virtue of its sheer size is China Mobile, which alone accounts for 11.5 per cent of the total World connections across its fully-owned interests in China and Hong Kong. With a combined 479 million connections, China Mobile comfortably surpasses any other aggregated group in the World by a factor of two. Vodafone Group takes that second position with 247 million total connections across 19 markets in which they hold a majority stake of an operator. Their most recent expansion comes via Ghana, India and the awaited commercial launch in Qatar. Vodafone have majority-holdings in 10 markets in their home region of Western Europe, the remainder falling across Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.
Two groups are in close contention for third and fourth place: the Spanish-based Telefónica and Mexican-based América Móvil. Each group’s footprint outlines the intense competition between the two — Telefónica and América Móvil operate in 13 of the same markets in Latin America with the latter running a close second place for connections worldwide, despite Telefónica’s heavy European presence. Recent operational launches for América Móvil include Puerto Rico and Jamaica at the end of 2007 and more recently Panama during Q1 2009. Notably, América Móvil is now offering either UMTS (WCDMA) or HSDPA services in all 17 of its markets. Meanwhile, Telefónica’s 2007 purchase of a net 9.97 per cent stake in Telecom Italia Group (TIM) has raised eyebrows at the Argentinean regulator as they state that their indirect ownership of a minority stake in Personal (through TIM and Telecom Argentina) is in breach of competition laws with regard to their direct full ownership of Movistar Argentina.
In terms of next-generation network deployment, NTT DOCOMO leads the way, having commercially launched its WCDMA network as far back as October 2001 and its HSDPA network in August 2006. Across all of DOCOMO’s majority-owned subsidiaries, over 95 per cent of its total 54.7 million connections are on either its WCDMA or WCDMA HSPA networks. US-based operators and rivals Verizon Wireless and AT&T follow DOCOMO with second and third place respectively, the former boasting 59.3 per cent of all connections on its faster CDMA2000 1xEV-DO networks (either Rev. 0 or the newer, faster, Rev. A flavor). AT&T meanwhile has 31.4 per cent of all connections on its WCDMA HSPA network across its footprint in the US, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Of these 25 million connections, AT&T has seen a strong increase in the year thanks to continuing exclusivity across the iPhone 3G range in the US despite being surpassed in terms of total connections by the Verizon/Alltel merger.
Outside of the top 25 overall ranking by total connections, four operators-groups rival DOCOMO for next-generation adoption: KT Korea (100 per cent), Hutchison Whampoa Group (96 per cent), SoftBank Mobile Japan (92 per cent) and SK Telecom Korea (86 per cent). Whilst they fall outside of the scope of the leading 25 operators by size, their technological advancement and rapid adoption rate puts them at the forefront of development worldwide.
Within the top 25 however, the remaining operators all have a next-generation connections base that represents less than 20 per cent of their total connections. This is largely indicative of two things. Firstly, certain groups have footprints that lie in regions where next-generation network deployment is in its early stages (China), or the majority of license awards have yet to take place (India). Secondly, it highlights the expansion of, predominately European-based groups, into the emerging markets. Vodafone, France Telecom and TeliaSonera currently all rest around the 16-18 per cent mark for WCMDA and HSPA connections over their entire footprint as the groups have managed their entry into India, Africa and the Middle East over the last few years. In contrast, their aggregated European markets alone show a percentage of next-generation connections that represents almost double the figure for their total footprint.
Will Croft, Analyst, Wireless Intelligence
The powerful new group analysis tools available from Wireless Intelligence highlight the progression of operator consolidation across the globe. High penetration in mature markets is slowing the overall possible rate for organic growth as operators push for multiple connections per customer and secondary data connections. At the other end of the spectrum, the emerging markets still produce lucrative profit-making ventures and phenomenal growth; a trend we will see increase as further next-generation licenses are awarded and telecoms regulation opens up. Coupled with these two penetration-driven trends is course the uncertainty of the financial climate. As a result, we are seeing more consolidation than ever before as mergers and acquisitions drive non-organic growth in the mature markets and expansion into the emerging markets remains a key priority for the larger operator groups.