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Mobiles set to outnumber people

T. Ramachandran
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High-speed networks and feature-laden phones willensure that mobile phones will exceed the world population later this year.

The mobile telecommunications sector was expected to achieve a landmark this year when the active SIMs in circulation worldwide would exceed the global population in number, says a stock-taking report of the GSM Association, a body of mobile operators and companies.

The report, released during the recently-concluded World Mobile Congress in Barcelona also said emerging markets, particularly the Asia-Pacific region, will emerge as a key driver of mobile communications, accounting for nearly half of all new connections added hereafter till 2017.

Global SIM penetration is expected to touch 129 per cent by 2017 as opposed to the current 94 percent. The 100 per cent milestone would be crossed this year.

The Asia-Pacific region had accounted for 57 per cent of all new connections between 2008 and 2012, which stood at 3.3 billion. About 1.4 billion new connections were expected to be added in this region between 2012 and 2017, the report said. Africa and Latin America have also played a key role in spurring the growth of the mobile industry.

Globally the number of connections had risen to almost 7 billion in 2012. And 3 billion connections would be added between 2012 and 2017.

About 3.2 billion people now use mobile communications across the world and a billion subscribers were added during the last 4 years. About 700 million more subscribers were likely to be added by 2017, and the 4 billion mark was likely to be surpassed in 2018.

Falling prices and rising disposable income and business models such as pay-as-you-go plans, micro-top-up, availability of low cost handsets, lack of alternatives such as fixed line communications and the adoption of new technology by mobile operators have all accounted for the growth, the report says.

Impact of 3G and 4G services

3G technology has gained significant ground, quadrupling since 2008 to reach 1.7 billion connections, and will rise to 4.2 billion connections in 2017. 4G is also making inroads and will account for 10 per cent of global connections in 2017 as opposed to just 1 per cent in 2012. Even so, the older 2G technology will hold good for large parts of the world and still account for 47 per cent of the connections in 2017.

This was due to "inertia in the handset and equipment base and new 2G connections in the developing world. A majority of world’s handsets are still “feature phones”. Less than one in four handsets shipped in 2012 was a smartphone, while phones equipped with the latest LTE (long-term evolution) technology accounted for less than 4 per cent of shipments, the report said.

Subscriptions model preferences also varied globally in terms of the pre-paid vs post-paid scene: 75 percent of connections are post-paid in North America, 50 percent in Europe (overall), 75 percent in North-Western Europe and 40 percent in South-Eastern European states. But only 18 percent of connections are post-paid in Asia Pacific, 20 percent in Latin America, 13 percent in CIS and 4 percent in Africa.

From voice to data

Data consumption on the mobile grew globally as an increasing number of people use the phones to connect to the Internet. The traffic volume during the past one year - 2012 - exceeded that of all the previous years combined. The data scene was dominated by high definition video followed by data services like web browsing and sending emails.

The application of mobile technology in diverse sectors will also make a difference to people's lives, for instance the automobile sector.

Here ‘connected car systems’ will add to safety, improving driving experience, provide for better entertainment and also better monitoring and maintenance.

In the health arena mobile technology will help in the delivery of innovative health solutions. The mobile industry would help improve and extend the reach of education as well.

Mobile communications will be an important part of Smart Grids - electrical grids incorporating information and communications technology.

The contribution of the mobile industry to the world economy totalled US $ one trillion or 1.4 percent of the world’s GDP in 2012. In the coming years Asia Pacific will be a leader in terms of absolute growth while Africa will notch up the highest rate of increase.

Falling prices and rising disposable income and business models such as pay-as-you-go plans, micro-top-up, availability of low cost handsets, lack of alternatives such as fixed line communications and the adoption of new technology by mobile operators have all accounted for the growth.

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