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October 6, 2014

Number of mobile connections to surpass global population

Mobile connections to reach 7.3bn in 2014 but where is the money?

By Ben Sullivan

The number of mobile connections is about to overtake the number of people on Earth, statistics from tracking websites reveal.

It was March 2012 when the world’s population hit seven billion, but the ticker on GSMA Intelligence passed that figure recently, which accounts for mobile connections including M2M.

At the time of writing, Earth’s estimated population is reaching almost 7.3 billion. But the estimated number of connected connections from the live tracker at GSMA Intelligence is also fast approaching 7.3 billion. GSMA identify ‘connections’ as either a SIM card in a device or an M2M module.

GSMA also shows just over 3.5 billion unique mobile subscribers, a 5.35% growth year-over-year. Revenue from mobile connections, including M2M, also stood at $1.13 trillion in 2014, showing 3.75% growth year-over-year.

Earlier this year, GSMA said: "The global population is currently estimated to be 7.2 billion people so we’re rapidly approaching the point where there are as many mobile connections as people on the planet. That’s not bad for an industry that didn’t even exist just a few decades ago.

"However, it’s wrong to assume that nearly every single person on the planet is connected to a mobile network. Indeed, there’s a substantial difference between the number of mobile connections and what GSMA Intelligence terms "unique mobile subscribers".

"What’s the difference? A unique mobile subscriber is one human being who subscribed to mobile services and that individual can have multiple mobile connections (i.e. SIM cards). In the developed world, an individual typically accounts for more than one mobile connection because they own more than one device; for example, if you own a smartphone and tablet with separate SIMs, you hold two connections. In emerging markets, subscribers are more likely to hold multiple SIMs, swapping them to take advantage of the best tariffs in a given situation."

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Kevin Kimberlin, who helped to fund the launch of emerging market cellular icebreaker Millicom, said: "No other technology has impacted us like the mobile phone. It’s the fastest growing manmade phenomenon ever – from zero to 7.2 billion in three decades."

But despite the increase in mobile connections, there has been a steady decline of average average revenue per user (ARPU) over the past three years, said GSMA. For financial year 2013, ARPU was down almost 4% year-on-year. However, this shows that the revenue increase of 4% for financial year 2013 owes thanks to the rate of mobile connections outpacing the declining spend of the average monthly user.

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