The biggest mobile networks in the world

India-based mobile operator, Bharti Airtel has become the third largest mobile network in the world, based on subscriber numbers.

The latest data from Ovum’s World Cellular Information Service (WCIS) shows that Bharti’s 303 million subscribers puts it behind only China Mobile (626 million) and UK-based Vodafone (403 million) in terms of customers.

According to Bharti chairman, Sunil Mittal, has pioneered a low-cost business model based on outsourcing, which allowed it to expand services rapidly.

Ovum’s WCIS data tracks global mobile subscriptions, KPIs, financial and operational indicators, among others.

These are the top 5 mobile networks, according to Ovum:

# Operator Subscribers (millions)
1 China Mobile 626.7
2 Vodafone 403.1
3 Bharti Airtel 303.0
4 China Unicom 299.1
5 America Movil 274.1

The latest reported data from the mobile operators paints a similar picture to Ovum, though the numbers are more inflated.

The numbers below are taken as reported by the operators in their latest quarterly updates.

As of March 2015, the world’s biggest mobile networks look like this:

# Operator Subscribers (millions)
1 China Mobile 816.3
2 Vodafone 445.8
3 Bharti Airtel 342.4
4 China Unicom 290.3
5 America Movil 289.7
6 Axiata 260.0
7 Telefonica 252.8
8 MTN Group 227.5
9 VimpelCom 218.1
10 Telenor 192.0

While MTN Group may be the 8th biggest mobile operator in the world, in South Africa, the group plays second fiddle to market leader, Vodacom.

Notably, both MTN and Vodacom have shown a consistent drop in market share, year on year, giving way to Cell C.

At the latest reporting, this is how the country’s largest mobile operators stand in terms of subscribers:

# Operator Subscribers (millions)
1 Vodacom 32.1
2 MTN 28.0
3 Cell C 21.0
4 Telkom (Mobile) 2.2

South Africa is also home to a number of virtual mobile operators, including Virgin Mobile, Mr Price Mobile and more recently, me&you mobile and FNB Connect mobile.

Virgin Mobile has avoided the issue of talking specific numbers, instead focusing on growing its user base to a landmark 1 million subscribers by 2017.

The last user figures from Virgin Mobile came in 2013, pegged around 500,000 – and analysts doubt the figure has changed much since then.

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The biggest mobile networks in the world