The GSM Association (GSMA) has claimed at the Mobile World Congress, Barcelona, that the number of worldwide unique mobile subscribers will surpass 5 billion by mid-year. Releasing the 2017 edition of their ‘Mobile Economy’ report, the association said the subscriber base is expected to reach 5.7 billion, representing about three-quarters of the population, by the end of the decade. A unique mobile subscriber is an individual who can account for multiple SIM connections.

GSMA believes the subscriber growth will be driven primarily by large Asian markets, such as India that alone is forecast to add 310 million new unique subscribers by 2020.

The study highlights a shift to mobile broadband networks and smartphones, which is good news for 5G.

Mobile operators have invested over a trillion dollars in their networks since 2010 and will invest a further $700 billion [₹47.60 lakh crore] over the remainder of the decade as we enter the 5G era,” added Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA.

Towards 5G

By the end of 2016, there were 4.8 billion unique mobile subscribers and 7.9 billion SIM connections worldwide. More than half of connections (55%) were running on mobile broadband (3G/4G) networks that are forecast to account for almost three-quarters of connections by 2020. The proportion of 4G connections is forecast to almost double from 23% to 41% by the end of the decade. At the end of 2016, 580 4G (LTE) networks had been launched across 188 countries.

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.

GDP driver

The GSMA is keen to point out that mobile technologies and services accounted for 4.4% of the global GDP in 2016, equivalent to around ₹224.38 lakh crore of economic value. This is forecast to increase to more than ₹285.58 lakh crore by 2020, or 4.9% of projected global GDP. The mobile ecosystem directly and indirectly supported 28.5 million jobs in 2016, a figure expected to increase to 30.9 million by 2020, claimed GSMA.

GSMA claims social relevance

The report also highlights the leading role the mobile industry is playing in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3, particularly in areas such as financial inclusion (supporting SDG 1), health (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5) and infrastructure (SDG 9).

Mobile networks are pivotal in extending internet access to as much of the world’s population as possible, GSMA said in a press release. The number of individuals accessing the internet over mobile devices has doubled over the past 5 years to 3.6 billion, and will rise to 4.7 billion, equivalent to 60% of the global population, by 2020.