I have been tabulating the listing for the most advanced countries in mobile and been showing it at various events and printing the latest chart in my TomiAhonen Almanac annually, etc. I have been doing updates for the various annual stats that will go into the 2012 edition of the Almanac and have just completed the index of mobile market leadership.
This index is as far as I know, the only international comparative table that uses all the major metrics for the industry as inputs - ie I use the mobile phone penetration rate per capita, the migration rate to 3G networks, the adoption ie usage of mobile data (which typically is the adoption rate of SMS text messaging in most markets) and the measure of how advanced the handsets are in that country (which in most cases is the adoption rate of smartphones).
All the numbers are normalized and indexed so that the global average is 50% and the theoretical maximum (if your country had the highest rate for all four measures) is 100%. The leader is once again Japan which has led on this table every year since I started to compile it. But there has been a lot of movement again. For the first time all of the top 3 nations come from Asia and 6 of the Top 10 nations come from the Asia-Pacific region. Italy continues to be the most advanced European country in mobile, and the only nation from the other four continents that makes the Top 20 list is the USA which is climbing up the charts but rated at 17th.
I have also a non-scientific rule of thumb that about 10 percentage points on the chart means one year of a lead. So Japan leads Sweden by one year, and leads Ireland by two years. The USA lags Finland by a year, and Hong Kong lags South Korea by a year. Usually when talking with mobile experts who specialize in international aspects of the industry will confirm that this list is very well consistent with their personal observations - ie we tend to see the most advanced mobile services, phones and innovations coming from Japan, South Korea and Singapore - and in Europe the mobile leaders tend to be Italy, Finland and Sweden. Etc. So this list seems to also find agreement by those experts who specialize in comparing international markets for their mobile industries.
Here is the latest table of the world's most advanced countries by mobile leadership.
Rank (2010) . Country . . . . Index
1 (1) . . . . . . Japan . . . . . . 91%
2 (2) . . . . . . South Korea . . 89%
3 (6T) . . . . . Singapore . . . 84%
4 (3) . . . . . . Italy . . . . . . . 83%
5 (6T) . . . . . Finland . . . . . 82%
6T (9) . . . . . Sweden . . . . 81%
6T (4T) . . . . Taiwan . . . . . 81%
8 (4T) . . . . . Austria . . . . . 80%
9 (14) . . . . . Hong Kong . . 79%
10 (10T) . . . Australia . . . . 78%
11 (8) . . . . . Israel . . . . . . 77%
12 (10T) . . . UK . . . . . . . . 76%
13T (16T) . . Denmark . . . . 75%
13T (15) . . . Norway . . . . . 75%
13T (12) . . . Spain . . . . . . 75%
16 (22) . . . . UAE . . . . . . . 73%
17 (19) . . . . USA . . . . . . . 72%
18 (13) . . . . Ireland . . . . . . 71%
19 (18) . . . . Netherlands . . 70%
20 (16T) . . . Germany . . . . 69%
Source: TomiAhonen Almanac 2012
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(Please note, in my Index I have always igrnored the tiny countries like Luxembourg or Macao or Monaco or Lichenstein etc. These tend to have very high adoption of all tech as they tend to have wealthy citizens and are very small countries to cover in terms of technology infrastructure)
What does this "leadership" mean? It means that typically, for major mobile innovations and developments, the first nations do to them tend to be near the top of this list, and then when those concepts spread, they tend to be adopted at higher rates, by nations at the top of this list.
A few concrete examples. Many US airports do not yet offer mobile phone check-in. Finnair in Finland invented it, and today more than half of Finnair's passengers use it. A survey of airline travellers by SITA found that globally 17% of airline passengers already use mobile check in. Its completely normal in all of the top 10 nations of this list.
Or take 3G. The US industry is proud that it is soon going to approach the point where half of US consumers have 3G (or faster) based cellphone connections. Japan was the first country to launch 3G and is so far on the transition - that two of the three networks have shut down their 2G networks altogether. The total migration rate to 3G has passed 95% in Japan and will reach 100% next year.
Or how about those famous smartphones? The USA has 112 million smartphones used by a population of 320 million people, so smartphone adoption rate is 35%. That seems very amazing, until you look at Singapore where smartphone adoption rate is 61% per capita and in Sweden it is 52% per capita.
Finally the mobile phone penetration rate. The USA was very proud of passing the 100% per capita mobile phone penetration rate (when measured as mobile subscribers ie subscriptions per capita, counting both prepaid and postpaid subscriptions). So the USA today has more mobile phone subscriptions than people alive, counting everyone from babies to great grandparents? And the US mobile phone subscription rate is far head of Canada (78%) and Mexico (89%). Yeah. Sure. Thats a nice number.. for North America. South Africa passed 100% penetration rate in 2010. Colombia passed 100% penetration rate in 2009. Chile passed 100% penetration rate in 2008. The UK passed 100% penetration rate in 2004. Italy passed 100% pentration rate in 2002. Taiwan passed 100% penetration rate in 2001 yes ten years earlier! The European AVERAGE mobile phone penetration rate is 145%. The UAE is the first country to pass 200% mobile phone penetration rate !
So I know, I know, the US readers may feel that the USA is a leader in mobile, what with the iPhone and Google and (and.. and.. and what? Palm? Even with HP Palm failed? Motorola? Microsoft Kin and Windows Mobile and Windows Phone?). And even those wonderful ideas like the App Store? Invented in Japan. Apple's 70/30 revenue share 'revolution' - invented in Japan where the deal is 90/10. The best smartphone app last year, as selected by CNBC, the amazing 'Word Lens' real-time translator utility using the cameraphone to translate text on your screen from Spanish to English etc? Its a copy of what was launched in 2007 in Japan as Camera Jiten and was featured in my 2008 book as a case study. That is what I mean.
It is clear that the USA is waking up to mobile, and is slowly climbing up that chart. But it is, literally, a year behind Finland and almost two years behind Japan, in mobile. Lets be very real about this.
And on more practical points - if you are interested in mobile, then go to the most advanced markets to study it. Undoubtedly the global leader in mobile has been, and continues to be Japan. If you study Japan mobile today, you willl see what will be in your pocket some years down the line. Same is true of South Korea and Singapore but obviously ever less as you progress down that list. But what do I mean by Japan leads? You like your WiFi on your phone? First done in Japan. How about the all-you-can-eat data plan? Japan. The cameraphone? Japan. Etc. What of the future? Currently the big companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Nokia etc are talking about mobile money on something called NFC, Near Field Communication. Have a guess where the first mobile money NFC was launched? In Japan. Today half of Japanese have phones that include NFC and a fifth of Japanese use NFC based mobile wallets. Thats what I mean. The modern Japanese mobile phone is a wonder of future tech, the cameras are now 16 megapixel, the phones include tuners for digital TV, the WiFi connections include WiFi router funcitonality so you can plug your other WiFi gadgets to your phone to connect to the fast cellular networks - and haha, the modern Japanese phones are waterproof. Not for taking to the beach - for taking to the bath and shower.. Yes. Coming to a pocket near you soon.
If you are the 'Chief Mobilista' of your company, you should try to schedule a pilgrimage to Japan (and visit South Korea on your visit too, while Japan leads the world in mobile - and South Korea is second - in 'digital convergence' it is the other way around - South Korea leads the world and Japan comes second. These two countries form a kind of Digital Nirvana and it is where our future already exists).
About TomiAhonen Almanac 2012. The TomiAhonen Almanac is an annual statistical volume of mobile industry numbers and stats, with over 80 tables and charts. It is published at the start of the year, expected release date for 2012 edition is end of January 2012. The Almanac costs only 9.99 Euros and is only available from TomiAhonen.com website. The TomiAhonen Almanac is widely used and referenced. It includes stats on all major areas of the industry from handsets to services to networks to apps to advertising. For more including ordering information please see TomiAhonen Almanac
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