Lets look at the big numbers we can expect this year in mobile. And it seems they all are Billions now, when we look at this industry. I find the growth astonishing, and I am not surprised if many of our readers here on this blog feel the same.
Fifteen years ago, when I first spoke at an international telecoms conference, mobile was the little brother of telecoms and had 200 million users, compared to 1 Billion fixed landline telecoms users. When I was writing the manuscript of my first book, mobile had not reached 1 Billion users and ten years ago in 2002, when that book was released, this industry passed the Billion subscriber milestone.
At the time this Communities Dominate blog was launched around my fourth book in 2005, mobile reached the 2 Billion active subscriptions level. By the end of the decade, by 2010 mobile had passed every other technology in its number of users, with 5 Billion active users (or more precisely, active subscriptions) and today in April 2012, mobile has 6 Billion. For a planet of 7 Billion people, it is now only a matter of time, when will the number of mobile phone subscriptions pass the total population of the planet (counted as humans alive, from babies to great grandparents; not like most other technology measure their adoption rates as for example household penetration rates or penetration by adult users etc).
So when will that happen? I am sure many industry analysts will celebrate the 7 Billionth mobile phone subscriber this year and shortly thereafter, cheer that mobile now has more active subscribers than humans alive on the planet. I don't think it will happen this year, but that we will reach that milestone by Spring of 2013. But it is such a fantastic achievement - never in humankind has any kind of technology come close to this level of universal adoption level - it will be broadly celebrated late this year, sometime around November we can probably expect the first who jump that gun.
In reality it doesn't matter if the world has 6.9 Billion mobile subscriptions in use by end of December 2012, or 7.1 Billion. It will be close enough. Mobile will very soon thereabouts reach an unbelievable, until very recently implausible milestone - that there are more active mobile phone subscriptions in use worldwide than humans alive. And yes, obviously a 'subscription' is not the same as 'human user' as some of those mobile subscriptions are machine-to-machine subscriptions (reading our electricity meter for example). The number of 7 Billion subscriptions does not equal 7 Billion actual mobile phone handsets (many people increasingly have two or three or four SIM cards they use on one phone). The number of handsets in use is far less than the total subscriber count.
And the actual 'unique user' count of mobile users is even lesser than that, as obviously many of us as 'one unique user' may walk around with two phones (such as the classic Blackberry from work but iPhone as personal phone) or even three mobile subscriptions (adding the iPad or netbook or the 3G data dongle for the laptop).
6.9 BILLION SUBSCRIPTIONS
So yes, my official forecast for end of year 2012 says we end the year with 6.9 Billion mobile phone subscriptions for a population of just over 7 Billion people. And I think we will see the cross-over happening in the Spring of 2013. But the industry will probably celebrate the 7 Billionth user level during late 2012. Don't be surprised.
What does that mean in terms of actual mobile phone handsets in use? I forecast that this year 2012 will end with 5.4 Billion handsets in use worldwide (up from 4.8 Billion in use at the start of the year). That is a lot of digital pocketable computing power. Most of those handsets are still obviously 'dumbphones' but even then, most of those are cameraphones with color screens, full HTML capable web browsers, are Java capable and support all our standard industry tech like SMS and MMS. We'll talk about those later in this blog, as well as the smartphone migration rate.
The 6.9 Billion mobile subscriptions include multiple subscriptions. I was the expert who first identified this phenomenon and my consultancy TomiAhonen Consulting has been giving the best estimates of the ratio of unique users and multiple subscriptions globally and regionally. The unique user count had passed 4 Billion individuals by the start of this year. How many unique users will we have by the end of the year? 4.3 Billion. The actual 'no bullshit' number for true unique mobile phone users globally will be 61% of the planet. Thats essentially everybody over the age of 9 in the Industrialized World, plus 56% of the population living in the Emerging World. For real! That is a phenomenal number. We are truly abridging the digital divide with mobile. This year, not in accounting gimmick terms, but in absolute concrete terms, the Emerging World population will reach the point where across its whole population, over half will have a mobile phone and at least one active mobile account. Even there, obviously, there will still be regional differences, China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia will have far higher mobile phone penetration rates than Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Bolivia and Somalia, but nonetheless, the mobile technology is now fulfilling the promise of digital connectivity for the whole planet.
SMARTPHONES PASS 1B IN USE
Then lets look at those smartphones. Last year more smartphones were sold than personal computers of any kind including all desktops, laptops, netbooks and tablet PCs like the iPad, combined. And the margin was not even close. Smartphones sold 486 million units. If you think that was a lot, note that smartphone shipments grew 62% from just a year before! This year I am projecting 745 million new smartphones sold.
First, in terms of technology, the smartphone will become the second most widely sold consumer electronics ever, when measured in annual sales. Far ahead of digital cameras or PCs or TVs or DVD players or videogaming consoles etc. What is ranked number 1? Dumbphones of course (which sell more than 1.1 Billion units this year, when combined, all kinds of handsets will sell at least 1.8 Billion units, and might reach 2 Billion sold this year, actually).
At this point, when we await Q1 final shipment numbers, the smartphone migration rate of all phones sold, is nearing one third (it was 30% in Q4 of 2011). By the end of the year over 40% of all new handsets sold will be smartphones and next year, 2013, half of all new phones sold will be smartphones.
This year the mobile industry will sell about 745 million smartphones. That is a lot of pocket computers and high-power 3G internet devices and cameraphones. Note, first, that it means the smartphone industry will sell about twice as many smartphones as the traditional computer industry sells any other type of computer including the rapidly growing iPad and tablet PC sales. The computer industry itself now counts smartphones as 'real computers' (don't argue this point with me, that train left the station years ago. All six of the biggest traditional PC makers, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, Apple and Toshiba - all say that a smartphone is a real computer). And thus, when counting total 'computer sales' this year 2 out of every 3 computers sold will be - a smartphone. That is massive. Samsung is the world's biggest computer maker and Apple the second biggest, both powered by their smartphone units, not their traditional PC units.
Secondly we will pass the Billion smartphones in use milestone. That will be passed during the late spring or early summer already, as we were at 900 million smartphones in use by the end of 2011 and we will end this year with more than 1.2 Billion smartphones in use worldwide. The installed base is now shifting away from Symbian to Android, with iPhone growing strongly and Blackberry receeding. Windows Mobile continues to be irrelevant in the big picture as does Windows Phone. Of the installed base of smartphones, the Android, Symbian, iPhone and Blackberry quarter control over 93% of the total global installed base. Samsung's bada comes in fifth, ahead of the two Microsoft platforms (including the one Microsoft and Nokia keep trying to sell as 'the third ecosystem' ie Windows Phone which in reality currently is still the 7th ecosystem in smartphones).
At 1.2 Billion smartphones, this year smartphones will close the gap but not quite catch the global installed based of personal computers. That will happen next year, when the world will reach 2 Billion smartphones in use...
MOBILE INDUSTRY 1.4 TRILLION DOLLARS
So then lets go from the mere Billions to the Terrifying Trillions. Yes, mobile was the fastest industry ever to grow from zero dollars to one Trillion dollars in annual revenues - and did it in 29 years, by far the fatest industry ever to grow to that rare class of giant global industries (other giant global Trillion-dollar industries include automobiles, petroleum, banking, construction, military spending, food etc; and most 'high tech' and media industries are nowhere near yet the Trillion dollar level like television, computers, the internet, music, gaming, movies, print, advertising etc). How is the mobile industry growing now? We grew from 2010 to 2011 at a rate of 10% and reached 1.3 Trillion dollars worldwide. This year the mobile industry will easily pass 1.4 Trillion dollars in annual revenues.
Where is the money? Most is not in the handsets haha, its in our voice calls and messages and internet access etc. 1.1 Trillion dollars of the mobile industry revenues will be generated by the services side, or the 'traffic' side of the industry. Voice services will be roughly flat and the past profit engine and cash cow, SMS text messaging will see its growth slowing - while still growing revenues. Total mobile messaging will pass 200 Billion dollars of service revenues this year, of which SMS will still form a lion's share at over 130 Billion dollars worldwide. The second biggest mobile messaging revenue generator will continue to be MMS, increasingly the darling of the media industries rushing to capitalize on the mobile bonanza. MMS will pass 44 Billion dollars in annual revenues this year.
The non-messaging premium data services on mobile will continue to be the strongest growing sector, and grow from 139 Billion dollars last year to over 245 Billion dollars this year. If you think that is smartphone apps, think again. Last year only 12 Billion dollars (7% of the non-messaging data revenues) came from the apps, and most of that was not the type of 'app store' consumer apps you and I may buy. Most apps revenue still last year was enterprise/corporate apps. The consumer app sector generated only 5 Billion dollars. That will grow strongly this year, I project over 8 Billion in consumer apps and the total smartphone app space to pass 16 Billion dollars (half still out of enterprise/corporate apps). But this is the side-show, the vast majority - 230 Billion dollars - 15 times bigger than all apps reveues - will come from the services side of non-messaging premium data on mobile.
20 BILLION IN MAD
And it won't be advertising either. Mobile advertising will grow very strongly in 2012, and reach 20 Billion dollars in total value by the end of this year. That may sound very impressive for some industries that are deeply dependent on advertising like newspapers, radio and the internet; but mobile does not 'need' advertising. It is a pure gravy bonus revenue stream, like ads are to cinema. Mobile data (including messaging) earns 445 Billion dollars this year !!! And advertising will account for... 4.5% of that income. Yes, less than one twentieth of the total revenues of the mobile data industry comes from advertising. This is why carriers/operators don't much care about focusing on mobile ads, and it is outside ad platforms like Google, InMobi and OutThereMedia who tend to do most of the advertising services for the industry.
So lets then look at those users we have. What will the normal person do on their mobile in 2012? I reported here last year that we have passed the point where the primary use of a mobile 'phone' is no longer voice calls, it is now mobile messaging. The most used form of mobile messaging is SMS, which will grow its user base from the 5.0 Billion it had at the start of this year, to more than 5.6 Billion at the end of this year. The growth rate is slowing as heavy users are shifting their usage to more optimized messaging platfroms like WhatsApp, iMessage, Blackberry Messenger and MXit etc. Still, SMS will be the most used digital service on the planet this year.
Second most used mobile service, will be voice calls, which will grow its user base from 4.9 Billion to 5.4 Billion. Voice call use is also slowing as rival voice services are starting to spread, in particular Skype on smartphones with unlimited data plans, and/or using WiFi hotspots to bypass the costs of the voice calls on the cellular network, especially on international calls.
The cameraphone feature is on most phones, but in terms of active users, as the cameras keep getting better, ever more people will shift their daily camera use from stand-alone digital cameras and camcorders to the cameraphone. The total active user base of the camera on a phone will pass 4.5 Billion users this year.
What of those mobile ads? How many of us will be pestered by ads on our phones? That number keeps growing, and will grow from the 3.4 Billion it was at the start of the year to 4.4 Billion at the end of this year. Do bear in mind, the world has 4.0 Billion total FM radio receivers in use globally (most of those are in the Industrialized World where the number of FM radios far exceeds the human population) and not all FM radio channels broadcast advertising. There are about 2.0 Billion internet users. Televisions number 1.9 Billion. Newspapers sell under 450 million daily circulations. So in terms of which mass media reaches the most broad audience, mobile now totally towers over all other mass media as an advertising channel, not just by theoretical reach of installed base, but of actual consumers who receive ads on their phones.
Then how many send or receive MMS? That number still keeps growing, and reaches 3.0 Billion humans on the planet in 2012. MMS is the second most widely used messaging platform on the planet, 1.5 times bigger than email, 3 times bigger than Facebook by reach.
Then what of news? The number of people who receive news and alerts on their phones grows from 1.8 Billion at the start of the year to 2.3 Billion at the end of this year. That means that if you deliver news and alerts, only through mobile you can reach the pockets of 33% of the population of the planet. CNN and other 24 hour news can only reach about 1.4 Billion TV sets connected to cable/satellite/digital systems. Newspapers only sell under 450 million papers daily.
And of those 'internet users' we have two numbers again. We have the 'real internet' user number which is growing steadily, powered mostly by smartphone adoption and all-you-can-eat data plans. Even though some analysts still report that the cross-over point is yet to come (silly, as IBM and Nokia have already told us years ago the cross-over point has already happened). That number globally reaches 1.6 Billion at the end of this year, when the total internet user number will be something like 2.3 Billion perhaps. Of course many who use their smartphone to access the 'real internet' will also use a personal computer or netbook or tablet PC to acces the internet, so many of these users will use both types of devices.
But that is the misleading number. The relevant number is 'browsing-based content and services' ie the 'mobile internet'. That includes of course the 'real internet' but also any other HTML and WAP based services such as carrier billing (ie WAP billing) for app downloads etc. The actual number of 'mobile internet users' or browsing users on mobile is far bigger and continues to grow, powered very strongly by mobile as the first internet device for many in the Emerging World. The mobile internet user number grows from the 1.8 Billion it was at the start of 2012, to 2.1 Billion by the end of this year.
AND NOW - A VERY SPECIAL GIFT
And I am ready to announce a very special gift. I have been publishing the TomiAhonen Almanac every year now for many years to celebrate the industry stats and numbers, and to provide a low-cost statistical compendium of the mobile industry. I've been selling the Almanac at 9.99 Euros and released the new edition in early February of every year. For those who really need the numbers, it is a very cost-effective statistical volume, which I also formated for the small screen so you can read it off your iPhone or smartphone screen and keep all the industry numbers in your pocket.
The info in such an annual Almanac will become out of date very rapidly in this industry. So obviously, I can't sell last year's Almanac or the ones from years gone by. I often hear from people whose primary interest is not mobile, but are curious about it; or people who really do not have a budget, for whom even 9.99 Euros is a large amount of money (students, for example) who are still hungry for recent and valid data.
For them, and all of my reades, I have decided now to make my older Almanac a totally free edition. I won't release "last year's edition" but I will make the 2 year old edition available for instant download now, where the license is fully free to use and free to share. The data is obviously two years old. It is enough to give you scale of the industry, it can be supplemented with the various updated data on my blog like in this blog posting. But obviously, if you need to plan a real business, you should be able to afford to buy a 9.99 Euro eBook with all this year's data fully up-to-date.
But yes, if you don't need the exact current data, and only need recent data and are more interested in the overall scale and data from two years ago is not irrelevant to you, I can now offer the TomiAhonen Almanac 2010 as a totally free eBook edition. Please go to Lulu.com and download yours today and save on your smartphone and share with all your friends. If you do then feel you want the latest data, you can go to my website to buy the current edition TomiAhonen Almanac 2012 for 9.99 Euros.