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GSMA: There are more mobile connections than PEOPLE... but WHO'S HOGGING them all?

We need to track the users

Artist’s impression of deep blue planet HD 189733b

By the end of the year there will be more mobile phone connections than people on the planet, although they mostly belong to the richer part of the planet – a whopping half the world’s population doesn’t have connectivity.

But at present, the system simply identifies accounts rather than their users.

Research by the mobile industry trade association the GSMA says that as of April 2014, there were 7 billion cellular mobile accounts active, this is growing at a rate which is set to pass the 7.2 billion people on the planet forecast for the end of the year.

But as Joss Gillet of the GSMA points out, it would be wrong to assume that everyone has a mobile phone and he gives a figure of only one person in two having a mobile phone account. This is down to lots of people having more than one connected device. The industry metric is the number of active SIM cards. Indeed analyst Benedict Evans predicts a time when people in the developed world won’t know how many connected devices they have.

The GSMA research is interesting because it focuses on rural parts of the world, and takes into account not just that one person might have more than one SIM but that more than one person might share a single phone. In many parts of Africa, it’s common for enterprising householders to rent out phones to the rest of the villagers.

In Gillet's research, he also looks at the number of people under 14 in India, the vast majority of whom will not have a mobile phone – although it’s always worth remembering that India has a larger middle class than Europe – and the proportion of people in the world who don’t have mobile coverage. The report looks at how many subscribers in the developing world have more SIMs than phones. This trend is reflected by the increasing availability of dual-SIM phones such as the Nokia 630, specifically targeted at the developing world.

Gillet proposes a new metric of “mobile users” rather than mobile subscribers, and ventures that the proportion of the population with phones is unlikely to pass 71 per cent. Mobile technology has a significant economic effect, so much so that the World Bank has looked at this and has also made the distinction between active accounts and number of users.

Two areas the GSMA report doesn’t cover are machine-to-machine – which will increasingly affect the number of active connections – and accounts which are classed as “active” but which are not being used. Some time ago the UK operators agreed a metric of an "active account" as being one which had made a revenue-generating transaction in the last three months. As someone calling such an (inactive) account and leaving a voicemail can be revenue-generating because of mobile termination, a SIM can easily be sitting in a drawer and still be counted as being used. ®

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