AS the entire world saw almost seven billion SIM cards connected by end of last year, the GSM Association, an umbrella group of nearly 800 networks, vendors, handset makers and service providers worldwide has predicted that this year, the number of connected SIM cards will be in excess of the world population.
This revelation came via a report, The Mobile Economy 2013, powered by a consultancy, AT Kearney and the GSMA, released Monday at the on-going Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
More SIMs than people
"In 2012, the global mobile market grew strongly to nearly 7 billion connections, representing a growth rate of 13.7% p.a. since 2008 (see Figure 1). The number of individual subscribers increased by 38% in the four years from the end of 2008 and the number of connections grew by 67% over the same period (an increasing number of people have multiple connections, e.g. for work and personal use or for phone and tablet). As the global market continues to grow, 2013 is expected to be a landmark year, with, for the first time more SIMs active than people alive."
The chief reason for this phenomenal growth in number of connected SIMs is that many consumers have multiple devices -- dual SIM phones, laptops, and tablet PCs. Further, the report indicated that "with the number of mobile subscribers standing at 3.2 billion people, nearly half of the world's population now uses mobile communications. It is expected that a further 700 million subscribers will be added by 2017 and the 4 billion subscriber milestone will be reached in 2018."
Contribution to economy
The GSMA-Kearney report further said that the mobile industry is a major contributor to the global economy. "The total mobile ecosystem revenues were US$1.6 trillion, or 2.2 per cent of global GDP. For the period through 2017, the mobile industry will invest US$1.1 trillion in capital expenditure and will contribute US$2.6 trillion to public funding. Importantly, in 2017, companies across the ecosystem will employ nearly 10 million people globally. The mobile industry's economic impact reaches far beyond its already_impressive $1.6 trillion in revenues, to boost individual well_being, corporate productivity and government funding,"
Booming mobile broadband
At the end of last year, according to the report, there were 6.8 billion mobile connections worldwide, which is expected to grow to 9.7 billion by the end of 2017.
"Mobile broadband accounted for 1.6 billion of these connections in 2012, increasing to 5.1 billion in 2017, including 920 million LTE connections. The proliferation of mobile broadband enabled an explosion in data traffic and in 2012, 0.9 exabytes of data traversed mobile networks every month; this will increase by 66 per cent to 11.2 exabytes per month in 2017. 2 The rate of growth is best illustrated by the fact that total traffic volumes in 2012 were as high as all prior years combined."
Africa, Asia lead mobile growth
The global view of mobile growth identifies a number of regional themes. Emerging markets are the major engines of mobile growth - Asia Pacific in particular. The region generated an impressive 57% of all new connections between 2008 and 2012 to stand at 3.3 billion and is projected to grow at 7% p.a. between 2012 and 2017 adding 1.4 billionnew connections.
Africa and Latin America have also been a key source of mobile industry growth, accounting for the next 20% of connections growth between 2008 and 2012. This growth is set to continue with combined connections growth rate of 7% _ 8% p.a. over the next 5 years to 2017, representing 0.6 billion new connections by 2017. The headline growth in number of connections hides an important shift taking place in the types of connections that make up the total.
In terms of numbers of connections, 2G technology - which provides digital quality voice, messaging and low bandwidth data connections - still accounts for the majority of global connections in 2012, 5 billion of the 6.8 billion total. However, the growth in connections will be driven by increased uptake of 3G and 4G connections, which are forecast to increase from 26% to 53% of global connections over the period 2012 to 2017.
4 bn subscriber mark by 2018
Looking ahead, the report said the milestone 4 billion mark is expected to be broken at some point in 2018. The gap between subscribers and connections growth is explained by adoption of multiple SIM devices per person and rapid growth of M2M, especially in the developed world. This is indicated by SIM per subscriber ratio which is forecast to grow from 2.1 in 2012 to 2.5 in 2017 globally. North America, which sees the one of the fastest multi-device, has 2.8 SIM cards per subscriber, higher than any other region.