Historic milestone as global wireless subscribers reach 5bn

20 Sep 2010

Marking a major milestone in the history of technology, the number of worldwide subscriptions for wireless services is expected to reach 5 billion this month, equaling 73.4pc of the earth’s population.

“If the importance of an event can be measured by the number of people it affects, then the proliferation of wireless communications stands out as one of the most significant phenomena in the history of technology,” said Dr Jagdish Rebello, senior director and principal analyst for wireless research at iSuppli.

“Wireless communication now has spread to every nation, every age and every income level, becoming a basic staple like food, clothing and shelter. Wireless now represents the biggest stage that any technology market has ever played on, offering unlimited opportunities for members of the mobile communications supply chain.”

Wireless for all

After crossing the 5-billion threshold in September, global wireless subscriptions will increase by another 100 million and hit 5.1 billion at the end of 2010, amounting to 74.5pc of the world’s population.

Each of these subscriptions represents a recurring payment for wireless services delivered to a device, ranging from an ultra low-cost handset (ULCH) to a high-end smart phone.

The global installed base of wireless devices will amount to 4.9 billion at the end of 2010. The remaining subscribers will be accounted for by additional subscriber identification (SIM) modules used in mobile handsets and services to Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications systems.

The penetration of wireless subscriptions varies widely by regions.

At the low end is the combined Africa and Middle East region, where penetration amounts to 50pc. On the high side is Western Europe, where there are more subscriptions than citizens, with penetration amounting to 157.6pc.

Europeans frequently have multiple subscriptions and phones, allowing them to maintain communications while travelling in different nations that use varying service providers and air standards.

Technology driver

“Because of the prevalence of mobile communications, the focus of the global technology supply chain has shifted away from the slower-growing computer market toward fast-expanding wireless-oriented platforms,” Rebello said.

“The vast size of the installed base means wireless delivers greater opportunities for content and service developers to reach a large portion of the population. Furthermore, the evolution of mobile handsets into smartphones is leading to the deployment of more value-added services, software and components.”

On the software front, the market for preloaded applications (apps) that are already included in mobile phones when consumers buy them will expand to US$7.7bn in 2014, up from US$4.4bn in 2010.

In terms of components, the wireless communications semiconductor market is set to swell to US$80.2bn in 2014, rising at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 7.1pc from US$60.9bn in 2010. In contrast, the data processing semiconductor market will see its revenue expand at a CAGR of only 2.6pc during the same period.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years