80 per cent of the world’s mobile handsets will be smartphones by 2015

In about 100 days, by September, the number of mobile subscriptions across the world will equal the global population of 7.1 billion. According to International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in early 2013, the world had 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions, with more than half — 3.5 billion — in the Asia-Pacific region. Of the Asia-Pacific region, India and China alone constitute more than 2 billion mobile subscriptions, as the two countries that sit at the head of the list of the top 10 countries with mobile subscriptions (see chart).

With mobile penetration approaching 100 per cent and markets saturating, growth rates had fallen to their lowest levels in both the developed and the developing countries. For the developed world, the growth rate has fallen from a high of 13 per cent in 2005-06 to an estimated 3.7 per cent in 2012-13. For the developing world that added phone subscriptions at a scorching rate of over 30 per cent for the two years — 2005-07, the annual growth rate slowed down to an estimated 6.1 per cent in 2012-13. The global growth rate of mobile subscriptions presently averages at 5.4 per cent.

Mobile cellular penetration stood at 96 per cent at the beginning of 2013, with 128 per cent mobile teledensity in the developed countries and close to 89 per cent in the developing nations.

Even though the number of subscriptions is approaching the global population, it still does not mean that every citizen in the world has access to a mobile phone. Mobile teledensity in several large countries like China (85.21%), India (68.72%), Pakistan (68.83%), Nigeria (69%) still have reasonable head room for growth. In India’s case, however, in the last 18 months, the market was stagnant and even declining, settling at roughly 864 million (after touching a peak of 900 million), of which 70 per cent are active subscribers.

Mobile broadband subscriptions climbed from 268 million in 2007 to 2.1 billion in 2013 — an average annual growth rate of 40 per cent. In the developing countries, mobile broadband subscriptions more than doubled from 472 million to 1.16 billion during 2011-13. Africa has seen the highest growth rates in the last 3 years, where mobile broadband penetration is up from 2 per cent to 11 per cent between 2010 -13.

Demand for smartphones

A recent U.N. report released on the eve of World Water Day stated that as compared to people with mobile phones, only 4.5 billion have access to working toilets. Global telecommunications analyst firm CCS Insight has predicted that manufacturers will ship 1.86 billion phones in 2013, of which 53 per cent or 983 million will be smartphones. In the first three months of 2013, smartphone shipments exceeded those of non-smartphones for the first time ever, confirming the global trend that the future of accessing the web will be on “mobile Internet.”

By 2015, 80 per cent of the world’s mobile handsets will be smartphones — with much of the growth coming from emerging markets. CCS further predicts that by 2017, the combined number of mobile phones and tablets in use will exceed the world population.

Gartner, another leading information technology research and advisory firm, predicts combined shipment of PCs, tablets and mobile phones to reach 2.4 billion units this year. The research shows a decline in the PC markets to 7.6 per cent as consumers’ transition to tablets and ultra-mobiles.