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Media (R)evolutions: Unique Mobile Subscribers

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Globally, the number of mobile connections surpassed 7 billion in April of this year, and by the end of 2014 it is predicted that global connections will reach the world's population of 7.2 billion! This might lead you to beleive that almost everyone around the world has a mobile phone... but let's take a second look.

The telecommunications industry measures the market size and growth of mobile phones by tracking the number of subscribers, which are counted by SIM connections. This is a little misleading because one individual can hold multiple SIM connections (SIM cards). If one individual uses two SIM connections, he/she will be counted as two mobile connections even though only one mobile subscriber is present. In India, for instance, the number of phones per person is lower than the number of SIM cards per person. In contrast, there is almost a 1:1 relationship between phone ownership and SIM ownership in developed markets. 

This graph compares the number of unique subscribers to the number of mobile connections, visually demonstrating the discrepancy between the two measurements.

One explanation for this, is the popularity of sharing devices among friends, friends, and other networks. In a 2012 report, the World Bank highlighted the difference between mobile users and subscribers, explaining that "if a mobile phone exists in a household, then all members could theoretically use it, thereby extending access […]. Take Senegal, where the subscription penetration was 57 per 100 people in 2009, but household penetration was estimated to be 30 points higher at 87. This larger household size can dramatically extend access to mobile phones, considering that on average nine persons are in each Senegalese household."

Source: Quartz, "A big myth about connectivity in the developing world, busted" by Leo Mirani

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