In 30 countries around the world, from Aruba to Italy to Hong Kong, mobile phone penetration has past 100 percent. Translation: the number of cell phone subscriptions has exceeded the size of the population. That's according to end-of-Q1-2006 data just released by London-based researcher Informa Telecom&Media. Here is the list:
Turks & Caicos Islands: 161.8%
Cayman Islands: 136.4
Netherlands Antilles: 134.0
Czech Republic: 114.0
Hong Kong: 110.8
Antigua & Barbuda: 104.6
Informa's analysts project that another 10 countries may join this list by the end of the year, including Russia, which added 50 million subscribers last year. Market penetration in the US is currently at 72 %.
What does this list tell us? First of all, while the proportion of the population using cell phones has stabilized in most developed-world markets at around 80-85 %, there is clearly a growing trend among users for buying second and third cell phone subscriptions - simple math tells us that one in four or five users takes out more than one subscription. Operators are encouraging the practice, particularly by selling prepaid contracts with preloaded credits (prepaid accounts for 60% of subscriptions in Western Europe).
Secondly, this is not a phenomenon restricted to the developed world. Although a caveat is necessary here: high penetration rates in places like Turks and Aruba and the Cayman Islands are significantly inflated by tourists or businessmen or migrant workers who buy local SIM cards but are not included in the population count. The same is probably true for other small places such as Luxembourg (while the incidence of this phenomenon is obviously lower in bigger markets). So the really significant figures in the list start with Israel and Italy.
Why do people have multiple subscriptions? To separate work from private life, of course, but also to separate two parallel private lives.
PS: according to an ad published in the FT by the GSM Association, on June 12 there were 1'991'519'564 GSM and 3G subscribers in the world, accounting for 82% of the global cell phone market - hence, the overall number of mobile phone subscribers, independently of the technology they use, must be very precisely of 2'428'682'395 (no, the ad did not specify whether these are AM or PM numbers...). There is actually a ticker on their website, and - this is the significant figure - they expect that by the weekend the milestone of 2 billion GSM subscribers will be reached ("new users are signing up at the rate of 1000 per minute"). It took 12 years for GSM to reach the first billion connections, and only 30 months for the second billion, "boosted by the phenomenal take up of mobile in emerging markets such as China, India, Africa and Latin America", which accounted for 82% of that second billion. More numbers: the first mobile service based on GSM technology was launched in Finland in 1991; today, 690 mobile networks provide GSM services across 213 countries; China is the largest market, with more than 370 million users.