5 billion people worldwide now have a mobile device, GSMA data shows

Why it matters to you

Approximately two-thirds of our world’s population now has access to a mobile phone, and this number is expected to rise significantly in coming years.

We’re really earning our moniker as the mobile generation. According to the latest report from GSMA Intelligence, the research division of the trade organization representing mobile networks worldwide, 5 billion people around the globe now have a mobile phone connection. That represents about two-thirds of the world’s population. So if you’re looking for something in common with someone half a world away, cellphone ownership is probably a good place to start.

Thanks to a real-time tracker for total connections and unique subscribers the world over, GSMA is capable of keeping careful tabs on the number of mobile phones in use across the globe. The organization says it calculated its 5 billion-plus figure using “extensive database of mobile statistics and forecasts,” which is updated on a daily basis.

Keep in mind, however, that the number of individual subscribers is actually significantly lower than the total number of mobile connections across the world. That is to say, there are a number of “power owners” of mobile devices who have more than one SIM card, which means that they have more than one mobile device. After all, think of how many of your friends have both a work and a personal phone.

“Reaching the 5 billion-subscriber milestone is a tremendous achievement for an industry that is only a few decades old, and reflects the many billions of dollars that mobile operators have invested in networks, services, and spectrum over many years,” GSMA director general Mats Granryd said in a statement. “Today mobile is a truly global platform, delivering connectivity and, perhaps more importantly, social and economic opportunities to citizens in all corners of the world.”

According to data, more than half of the estimated mobile subscribers call the Asia Pacific region home, which makes sense given that China and India are the two largest mobile markets. In fact, China itself claims more than a billion of mobile phone subscribers, while India accounts for 730 million.

Europe, however, boasts the highest rates of penetration — 86 percent of citizens have a mobile service subscription.

In the coming years, GSMA estimates that the total number of unique mobile subscribers will hit 5.7 billion, with India comprising much of this growth.

“Subscriber growth opportunities over the coming years will be focused on connecting mainly rural, low-income populations; operators are developing a range of sustainable solutions to deliver affordable connectivity to underserved communities,” Granryd added. “Meanwhile, in mature markets where subscriber growth is slowing, operators are evolving their business models to capture increasing value within the expanding mobile ecosystem, and providing the platform for a new digital world as we enter the 5G era.”

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