India’s total subscriber’s base is 300 mn, but its mobile connections are over 900 mn (close to a bn) now. It follows the strange situation in the developing markets, where the ratio of SIM cards to users of mobile devices stands at 2.2.
India is a case in point. The country’s 900m mobile connections (second only to China’s) are in the hands of just 300m of its 1.2 billion people, the lowest proportion among big emerging economies. The GSMA estimates that India’s mobile-subscriber base will grow by more than 50% in five years. As city-dwellers’ mobile needs are satisfied, carriers will no doubt start covetously eyeing the relatively untapped rural market, where they have often feared to tread because of the costs of servicing customers in remote locations across a vast country. China, too, has a way to go. At present, just 43% of Chinese are mobile subscribers. The number is expected to reach 52% in 2017, mirroring the world as a whole.
The subscribers in some of the developed countries, on the other hand see almost 100% penetration of population AND a ratio of SIM cards to Users being > 1. Europe, for example, has 1.8 as its ratio. So these countries have hit the limit.
India – and, China, where the penetration is 43% – have a huge untapped market for the cell phone operators to enter.
Meanwhile in the rest of the world, the addressable market isn’t that much and the growth isn’t rising very high either.
Not all of the world’s unconnected masses are an immediate target for providers. The GSMA puts the global “addressable” population at just 4.7 billion (1.5 billion more than the current 3.2 billion unique subscribers). Of the remaining 2.3 billion, 1.5 billion live in pockets with poor or no network coverage, though this should fall to 1.1 billion by 2017. The other 800m include some elderly, disabled and cash-strapped unemployed, as well as the very young or incarcerated. The world’s addressable population ought to swell by 300m over the next five years. But so will its legions of unconnected, expected to reach 2.4 billion in 2017.