Emerging Trends | Multimedia, Content & Apps
August 6, 2013

Does almost everyone have a phone?

By ITU News Magazine

Findings from the ITU suggest that the answer to this question is not as simple as it might seem. It is estimated that by the end of 2013, there will be nearly as many mobile subscriptions worldwide as there are people on Earth, with more than half of these subscriptions in the Asia-Pacific region. If this trend continues, it is predicted that mobile subscriptions could reach 7 billion in 2014.


The graph below illustrates the converging trends in mobile-cellular subscriptions and  the world population 


Source: ITU World Telecommunication /ICT Indicators database.

According to GSMA’s report The Mobile Economy, released in February 2013, the actual number of individual mobile subscribers will reach 3.4 billion during this year.

There are several factors to explain the huge difference between the number of subscriptions and the number of individual subscribers. Most analysts agree that one main reason for this difference is that many individuals have more than one subscription, for example, a business and a personal subscription, whilst others have none.  So double counting takes place when these individual consumers subscribe to more than one service.

Mobile-cellular subscriptions worldwide (by the end of 2013)

Source: ITU World Telecommunication /ICT Indicators database.

In many developing countries, where the large majority of subscriptions are on a prepaid basis, people often buy several SIM cards to avoid paying high-termination charges which occur when calling from one network to another. Further to this, there is research to suggest that in developing countries many individuals may share one subscription, for example, through a village phone, or as a family.

Another factor is that, in some cases, operators are slow to remove inactive accounts from their databases and therefore end up reporting inactive SIM cards in their subscription totals. ITU defines that accounts that have been inactive for three months or more should not be counted. ITU tracks statistics of mobile phone users through national household surveys. It works closely with national statistical offices to improve the availability and quality of country data on the use of mobile phones and other information and communication technologies.

Mobile-cellular penetration estimates in 2013

ITU world regions Mobile-cellular subscription penetration (per cent)
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) 170
Europe 126
The Americas 109
The Arab States 105
Asia-Pacific 89
Africa 63

The table shows that mobile-cellular subscription penetration exceeds 100 per cent in four of the six ITU world regions, with 128 per cent in the developed world and 89 per cent in developing countries.

Facts about mobile-broadband subscriptions (also see map)

  • The number of active mobile-broadband subscriptions has grown from 268 million in 2007 to an estimated 2.1 billion worldwide in 2013.
  •  In developing countries the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions has doubled from 472 million in 2011 to an estimated 1.16 billion in 2013, surpassing the number in developed countries.
  • Africa has the highest regional growth rate in the last three years, increasing mobile-broadband penetration from 2 per cent in 2010 to an estimated 11 per cent in 2013.

Mobile-broadband subscriptions and penetration worldwide by the end of 2013 (estimates)
and compound annual growth rate (CAGR) 2010-2013

Source: ITU World Telecommunication /ICT Indicators database

By ITU News Magazine, Issue No. 2, 2013
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ITU is the United Nations' specialized agency for information and communication technology. Any opinions expressed and statistics presented by third parties do not necessarily reflect the views of ITU.

Does almost everyone have a phone?

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