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Global mobile subscribers set to hit 5bn before year end—GSMA predicts

Going by the speed of penetration and service delivery, a new study by GSMA has estimated that the number of unique mobile subscribers around the world will surpass 5 billion before the end 2017.

Details from the recently released 2017 global edition of the GSMA’s ‘Mobile Economy’ report, the 5 billion-subscriber milestone will be achieved by mid-year 2017 and will increase to 5.7 billion by the end of the decade.

The prediction means that almost three-quarters of the world’s population will be subscribed to a mobile service. Subscriber growth over this period will be driven primarily by large Asia markets such as India, which alone is forecast to add 310 million new unique subscribers by 2020.

GSMA also hinted that the on-going shift to mobile broadband networks and smartphones, paving the way towards the 5G era, and the mobile industry’s growing contribution to the global economy, jobs and social development.

Commenting on the report, Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA said “Mobile is a global platform that today supports two-thirds of the world’s population, delivering the connectivity and infrastructure that is powering new digital economies and addressing socioeconomic challenges”.

“Our latest Mobile Economy report reveals how the near ubiquity of smartphones and high-speed connectivity is enabling innovation in areas such as artificial intelligence and driving the digital transformation. Mobile operators have invested over a trillion dollars in their networks since 2010 and will invest a further $700 billion over the remainder of the decade as we enter the 5G era.”

The report also noted that as 4G is penetrating globally, 5G is beginning to emerge in major ICT cities in the world. Otherwise, by the end of 2016 there were 4.8 billion unique mobile subscribers and 7.9 billion SIM connections worldwide1. More than half of connections (55 per cent) were running on mobile broadband (3G/4G) networks, which are forecast to account for almost three-quarters of connections by 2020.

The proportion of 4G connections alone is forecast to almost double from 23 per cent to 41 per cent by the end of the decade, a result of ongoing investments in 4G networks by operators.

At the end of 2016, 580 4G (LTE) networks had been launched across 188 countries, providing 4G coverage to approximately 60 per cent of the global population.

The study predicts that the first commercial 5G networks (based on LTE Release 15) will launch in 2019 and will provide coverage to a third of the world’s population by 2025. The number of 5G connections is forecast to reach 1.1 billion by that time.

GSMA assumptions show that mobile technologies and services accounted for 4.4 per cent of global GDP in 2016, equivalent to around $3.3 trillion of economic value2.

Accordingly, there is expected rise to over $4.2 trillion by 2020, or 4.9 per cent of projected global GDP, as countries around the world continue to benefit from the improvements in productivity and efficiency made possible by mobile technology. The mobile ecosystem directly and indirectly supported 28.5 million jobs in 2016, a figure expected to increase to 30.9 million by 2020.

The report also noted that the mobile sector is also making a growing contribution to public sector funding. It is forecast that that the industry will contribute $500 billion in the form of general taxation in 2020, up from $450 billion in 2016.