Global mobile penetration rates revealed

With global mobile connections expected to hit 9.7 billion by the end of 2017, data from the World Bank shows which regions and countries are currently leading the way.

According to a recent report by the GSM Association (GSMA), global mobile penetration in terms of connections is fast-approaching 100%, and is expected to blast past the world population by the end of 2013.

The GSMA makes a distinction between mobile “connections” (number of SIM cards on a network) and mobile “subscriptions” (number of individual people on a network).

In its Mobile Economy 2013 report, the GSMA indicated that global connections are expected to reach 7.4 billion by the end of 2013, hitting 9.7 billion by the end of 2017.

The GSMA says that in Q4 2012, South Africa’s mobile penetration stood at 138% in terms of connections. In terms of subscriptions, however, the figure is significantly smaller at 66% of the population.

According to the World Bank, mobile cellular subscriptions are subscriptions to a public mobile telephone service using cellular technology, which provide access to the public switched telephone network. Post-paid and prepaid subscriptions are included.

For the data presented below, we have used the GSMA’s distinction between connections and subscriptions.

Mobile subscription map
Mobile subscription map [World Bank]

Leading the way

According to the World Bank, the Macao region of China has the highest penetration of mobile connections in the world, with 284 subscriptions per 100 people.

Hong Kong, also in China, is has the second highest penetration with 228 connections per 100 people.

When looking at mobile connections, globally, it comes as no surprise that Asia dominates the networks.

With a population exceeding 4.1 billion out of the global population of over seven billion people, Asia has by far the largest base of mobile users.

China in particular is home to the largest mobile operators in the world, with China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom covering well over 1.14 billion subscribers combined.

Top 10 countries by mobile cellular connections

# Country/State Connections per 100 people (2012)
1 Macao SAR, China 284
2 Hong Kong SAR, China 228
3 Antigua and Barbuda 199
4 Kuwait 191
5 Gabon 187
6 Panama 187
7 Suadi Arabia 185
8 Russian Federation 184
9 Suriname 183
10 Oman 182

When looking at the countries with the lowest mobile connections, north-east African state, Eritrea, sinks to the bottom the chart with only five mobile connections per 100 people, according to the World Bank.

Eritrea has a population of six million people.

Myanmar, where mobile giants recently bid for a lucrative mobile operating licence, is also sparcely penetrated by mobile connections, with the World Bank indicating only 11 connections per 100 people.

Other low-ranked countries include South Sudan, Central African Republic and Ethiopia – where local operators MTN and Vodacom have shown interest in expanding to.

Bottom 10 countries by mobile cellular connections

# Country/State Connections per 100 people (2012)
201 Eritrea 5
200 Somalia 7
199 Korea, Democratic Republic 7
198 Myanmar 11
197 Cuba 15
196 Kiribati 16
195 South Sudan 19
194 Dijibouti 23
193 Central African Republic 23
192 Ethiopia 24

The World Bank lists 213 countries and states, 12 of which show no data, hence totalling 201

SA versus the world

According to the World Bank’s data, South Africa has the 41st highest penetration rate, with 135 subscriptions per 100 people.

In its report for 2012, the GSMA reported similar findings, showing that South Africa has a connection penetration rate of 138% – while mobile subscriptions were at 66%. These figures are expected to be 171% and 79% by 2017, respectively.

Comparing like-on-like data from 2011 for Sub-Saharan Africa (53 subscriptions per 100 people) and the Middle-East and North African region (100/100), South Africa (2011: 127/100) shows a mobile connection rate far higher than the global average of 85 connections per 100 people.

# Region Connection Penetration (2011)
1 South Africa 127%
2 Middle East and North Africa 100%
3 World 85%
4 Sub-Saharan Africa 53%

The global mobile industry brought in US$1.6 trillion in 2012, with mobile network operators contributing over 62% – $1 trillion – of the total amount, the GSMA said.

Mobile subscribers SA vs MEA vs SSA vs World
Mobile subscribers SA vs MEA vs SSA vs World

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Global mobile penetration rates revealed