The Tipping Point: one in two humans now carries a mobile phone

The Tipping Point: one in two humans now carries a mobile phone
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February 19, 2008 Just 30 years after its debut, the mobile phone has conquered half the global population - the number of human beings carrying a mobile phone is due to hit the half way mark in the next few months. Between January 2001, and December 2010 (a decade), our global society will have transformed from one where 13% of carried a mobile phone, to one where 70% carry one according to Mobile Intelligence data – that’s one hell of a leap with some massive implications. Developing countries in particular are being colonized in short order – half the people of Pakistan have been connected in the last four years. This the tipping point in global history where wireless communications becomes the norm rather than the exception! Cheers all, we are officially in the age of mobile communications.

Whereas the United States and Europe led the initial adoption charge with mobile communications through the eighties and nineties, the technologically- sophisticated countries have long since reached effective saturation, and are beginning to become savvy seasoned users. Now the new connection growth is coming from developing countries which have leapfrogged a generation of communication technologies and gone from having no electronic communication to wireless, skipping the landline phase. The adoption rates, once people have recognised what the hand-held wizard enables them to do, have been astounding – mobile telephony is a must-have technology for the developing world – it puts the same tools we have, in their hands, for the first time.

Large slabs of Asia and the Pacific have been swept up in the coming of mobile telecoms in the last few years - in January 2004, only one in twenty Pakistanis had a mobile phone. By the end of 2008, better than one in two Pakistani’s will own a mobile, taking sophisticated communications into many regions for the first time. The social changes must be immense.

Last year Pakistan added more cellular connections than the USA, but the biggest growth is coming from China and India, both adding around 7 million new connections a month That’s a lot of people, and the changes being wrought by mobile phones to communities that had relied on word of mouth until a year or two ago is hopefully being documented somewhere – take a look at this graph of China’s mobile phone connections.

China is bursting with activity, and in the five years from January 2004 to December 2008, the most populous nation in the world will have increased its population’s connections from 21% of all people to 45% - China now has twice as many cell connections as the USA.

India is moving even quicker towards ubiquitous mobile connectivity – at the beginning of 2006, it had just 8% of its population connected – by the end of this year, the figure will be 28% - one fifth of a country with a billion citizens has bought a phone in that three year period.

The sheer mass of the mobile telecoms phenomenon is impressive – 1.12 billion phones were sold on the planet last year, up from a billion the year before and sales forecasts suggest 1.2 billion this year. Market leader Nokia had a global 40% market share in the last quarter of 2007 selling a remarkable 437 million mobile phones for the year - there are only 6,651 million people on the planet. One in six human beings bought a mobile phone last year. If it wasn’t a Nokia, it was probably a Samsung (161 million phones sold), Motorola (159 million), Sony Ericsson (103 million) or an LG (80 million) – or one of dozens of manufacturers sharing the remaining 17% of the market.

The global phone sales craze has made some sizeable personal fortunes for the retailers in local markets in these developing countries – a Mexican mobile phone mogul just replaced Bill Gates as the world’s richest person and countless fortunes have been made by being in the right business at the right time.

Clearly, at the rate we’re going, someday mobile technology will be ubiquitous, with third and fourth and subsequent generation technologies expected to yield wonderous functionality. It should also be acknowledged that the world will find the last billion people tough to sell given their impoverished state – more than a billion humans still cannot get access to clean drinking water.

The half way point for 2-1 ratio of humans to mobile phone connections was around January 14 according to Mobile Intelligence statistics. Those figures include people who have more than one mobile phone connection, so the real halfway point can be expected sometime later in 2008 or 2009 – without an exact date, it’s difficult to acknowledge the occassion, though we feel it is important that we recognize the massive change we are undergoing as a global society right now and it might well be worth celebrating a nominal day to highlight that the significance of the event.

Any thoughts?

Mike Hanlon

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