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December 05, 2016




I do not understand why the reach of SMS is different from mobile in total. Are there people with a mobile subscription but no SMS?

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Winter

Good question. Its active users. Every mobile phone can be used to receive SMS but many are not used that way. Note a significant part of the emerging world is illiterate and has no use for text based communication. That is why the big differences both in 'mobile vs SMS' and 'mobile vs voice calls'.

Also note the far smaller 'reach' of SMS active users, vs active mobile accounts of SMS, because most who have 2 phones will use SMS at some times on either or all of their accounts. So SMS (and to a lesser extent MMS) get larger total active user numbers than unique users (similar also to email accounts)

Tomi Ahonen :-)


Thanks, I had indeed forgotten to account for illiteracy.


0.4 billion mobile phone users have a phone that is capable of receiving SMS but not capable of receiving voice calls (4.1 Bn vs. 3.7 Bn). Care to explain why so?


You might be interested in this:
WhatsApp extends Symbian support but not Windows Phone support.
WhatsApp on Windows Phone dies 31-Dec-2016 whereas Symbian support will be extended to at least June 2017.


Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Wayne

Very good point. With Facebook yes, you could reach the 1.5 Billion unique user level roughly where they are today, 'easiest' via one contact point and one company. None of the top technologies can be used via just one contact. To do a TV ad, you would need probably every broadcast network in every country, but even in countries of one network (or only one TV network out of several that is allowed to carry ads, as some countries have) it wold mean 200+ countries and say 500+ networks.

With DVD retail it would be a different thing. You would not need national TV but you would need to be carried by the major national DVD retail channels in each of the 200+ countries. So it would be more of a typical hard goods sales/distribution problem (and opportunity).

Now on reach, not all who use Android are on the Google Play store but the net Play Store account users, adjusted for unique Play Store registered users, would yield in very rough terms a similar scale to Facebook Unique users. So Google would have somewhat a similar type of reach as a single vendor to reach the highest maximum. The difference being, that Facebook could 'guarantee' its roughly 1.5 Billion; Google could via Play Store get to roughly the same, but it would have parallel capability via a handful of other forked OS app stores etc to reach another half a Billion to get us about to 2 Billion, something that Facebook can not get out of its limit of 1.5B

On Email the issue is somewhat different. You could get to a large portion of the total unique Email users if you had some arrangement with the major email providers like Gmail and Yahoo and Hotmail etc. But you would not get to the private corporate enterprise and educational email systems that are plentiful. BUT differing from TV and Radio, with email if you have somebody's email address, you can write to them directly, and essentially reach everybody without any 'barrier' (excepting for any government internet censorship blocking systems). It is a totally different approach, would need 'permission' seeked from every one of the 2.5B unique email users (requiring far in excess of 5 Billion total requests with us often receiving the same request on our different email accounts). But you would not have any 'entity' to get permission nor to deny you. And because email is a personal communication system not a broadcast system, the email providers would almost certainly not be willing to 'spam' you without prior approval and permission from each user, and any email services which are paid email providers, would be incredibly reluctant to let their system be used by third parties to send any 'broadcast emails' to their total user base. But individually, there could definitely be an opt-in database and then as email transmission is free, then its just a matter of scale to reach each of the 2.5 Billion who use email. Here the opt-in model then takes its toll and time, but when done well, like in Japan, McDonalds with mobile ad opt-in, you can get a large part of a nation's user base to opt in and over time this can be somewhere around half of the total customers of your service or product.

That same model applies to some degree with SMS and MMS too, except that now each sent message costs a sending fee (and in some luddite countries, still the received message is charged as well, that charged to the person receiving the SMS or MMS, while this usually now is included in a 'bundle' of 'free' messages it is still outrageous and stupid and short-sighted by the greedy operators and industry). So if you get the opt-in, you don't need the operators in the middle (oh, same also applies, now that I think about it, to phone calls, fixed landline calls and mobile calls, all you need is the phone number).

Then there is overlap. If you wanted to reach say the half-way population mark, 3.7 Billion people, you could call every mobile phone number. You'd hit some of us twice on both of our phones, but you'd get to that unique 3.7B mobile phone voice call user level. If you went to a larger number, TV, Radio, SMS, you didn't need to contact every user, to get to 3.7B. BUT if you tried to do it from the smaller numbers, the danger is you hit the same users instead.

So to give the example you used, Facebook. If we start with 1.5B Facebook users and to keep numbers simple lets say Google Search has 1B unique users and Whatsapp has 1B unique users. So you could reach mathematically a target audience of 3.5B people via these three groups but they would all be INTERNET service providers. Their cumulative overlapping unique user number would be... constrained by the unique INTERNET user number which we see is 2.8B. You can't get to 3.5B in any way, using only internet providers whatever you would add to that, if you added Twitter and Instagram and Amazon and Yahoo and YouTube, because they ALL are Internet services, and you'd only get to 2.8 Billion and then keep hitting those same 2.8B again and again, but never getting beyond it.

So an interesting study would be (and eventually by someone, will be) the overlap and space beyond those groups I listed (and others in the 1B class like Facebook, YouTube, Google Search and Whatsapp). So instead of combining Facebook with say YouTube, you'd probably get a far larger total audience with far less overlap, if you combined Facebook with DVD audience (although with DVD the unique additional users would be disproportionately kids, but lets not now worry about the AGE of any target demographics haha).

This is the type of analysis and thinking I was hoping to spark with this posting and help the industry understand more about the increasingly complex options they have in a media strategy. I'm sure we'll have more of these discussions in this thread and in future years of the updates to these numbers, and help drive that understanding. Eventually these types of measurements will be normal in every 'new tech' expert's presentation slide deck, similar to how my original slide analysis of the mobile vs internet graphs (that I call the 'fundamental curves') have become the standard for most tech presentations today but nobody except me and my Nokia consultants did 16 years ago.

Tomi Ahonen :-)

 Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Pekka

Good question but you misunderstood. Its active users, unique active users. There are 5.7 Billion mobile phone unique owners and users. Not all use voice calls, not all use SMS text messaging. So you should not compare the 3.7B unique voice user number to 4.1B unique SMS user number, rather you should compare BOTH to the total MOBILE number.

Every one of the 5.7 Billion humans who has a mobile phone and current (active) mobile phone account - can be reached by voice calls but only 3.7 Billion are using voice calls (65%). Obviously it means, of those people who have at least one phone and at least one account, one in three does NOT put any cellular voice call minutes into the network. They can't be reached by mobile voice. What do they do? Some use voice services on their mobile but not the cellular voice type. So they use Skype and other VOIP services if they need voice, and will not use cellular voice call services at all. Some have accounts that don't include a voice minutes allowance at all, and use their phones only for data based services like Facebook or Whatsapp or SMS. Some who have voice will not use it, and prefer to only use SMS or email or Whatsapp. Some do their total mobile usaga only via Facebook, there are even 'Facebook phones' sold in some Asian countries for these type of people that have a Facebook button and have an 'unlimited Facebook' dataplan.

So the comparison is not SMS users not using voice, it is TOTAL mobile owners, not using voice.

The SAME mechanic applies to SMS but with different constraints of course. At the top end, SMS user numbers stopped growing when we hit the limit of literacy. So the reason only 4.1 Billion of the 5.7 Billion unique mobile owners use SMS, is literacy. But of all who own a phone and have an active mobile account/subscription (either prepaid or postpaid) 71% do use SMS text messaging. It means obviously that 29% of all who have a mobile account and phone, do not use SMS. Note, every one of those phones can RECEIVE an SMS but the user doesn't use it and would not react to the blinking envelope notice if an SMS message did arrive. Note that a significant part of those people are illiterate and to them, the phone has plenty of blinking lights and buttons they do not understand.

Now, some of mobile messaging users never joined SMS (mainly some Japanese users who had full email free on their phones before SMS came to Japan) and some are Americans mostly older employed people who didn't have messaging-obsessed kids, who came to mobile messaging via a Blackberry and grew straight into email. The new growth in mobile messaging is the instant messenger style apps and services, originally achieved mass market status in some countries by Blackberry Messenger and now reaching the 1 Billion user level globally by its biggest star, Whatsapp. So a tiny slice of SMS has been cannibalized by a stronger messenger 'addiction' of Whatsapp, and another tiny slice of the mobile messaging pie was held by the milder drug of email. Most of its is of course SMS by active users. And note, if you never send one SMS to a friend anymore, but use SMS once per month to authorize a credit card PIN, you ARE an active SMS user. That is all that matters for a media platform. Can you reach someone. SMS is by far the largest-reaching interactive digital platform, about 45% larger reach than the internet, more than twice as big as Facebook and 4 times larger than say Whatsapp.

So all mobile phones can receive SMS, they are technically able to do it and are on networks that can deliver SMS. So the theoretical reach of SMS would be 5.7 Billion people. Only 4.1 Billion people are the ACTIVE UNIQUE audience who will be opening SMS text messages. That is of cousrse a massive 55% of the whole planet's population, globally, not limited to 'adult population' it is 55% across all ages.

Similarly 5.7 Billion phones are connected to cellular networks that can deliver voice calls. Some of those accounts are not including voice connectivity. So the theoretical reach of voice would be somewhat below 5.7 Billion but not by much. 35% of all who have a mobile phone and account, do not use mobile voice. So one in three of us could not be reached via a mobile voice call, but 3.7 Billion unique humans can be reached that way which is 50% of the planet's population.

I trust this helped answer that question :-)

Tomi Ahonen :-)

 Tomi T Ahonen

PS Pekka

In very rough terms, to reconcile the 5.7B number. If we start with SMS at 4.1B, we add about 1B who do use voice, but do not use SMS. About half are the illiterate part, the other half are users who never got into SMS in the first place (often older people who 'prefer to talk'). That gets us to 5.1B and deals with the voice calls part. Of the last 600 million, roughly 500 million are internet users (note I don't mean full 2.8B internet users, I mean those who don't use SMS, who don't use voice calls, but DO use their mobile for internet based services, and often then only in free WiFi hotspots), mostly Facebook but also other internet services and includes heavy gamers, plus Skype, Whatsapp and other such IM platforms, YouTube etc. And the last about 100 million are email users who don't use voice calls, don't use SMS but do use their phones for email (think of the modern version of the original Blackberry crowd).

So in rough terms: 4.1B SMS users + 1B who use voice but not SMS + 500M who use internet who do not use voice or SMS + 100M who use email but not voice or SMS or internet otherwise = 5.7B total mobile unique users.

Tomi Ahonen :-)

 Tomi T Ahonen

Hi SybianLover

(you may have similar troubled chicklet keyboard as I do, I get tons of typos all the time that I only catch later when something is already posted, and it drives me mad... give me an old-fashioned keyboard that I can strike HARD and it will SHOW the letters that I typed..)

(PS I wonder how many characters I have DELETED in my lifetime, out of typos and retyping.. gosh its certainly more than the length of a full book. A full book of just typos haha)

Hey, thanks! Thats fascinating news. So it means, that Whatsapp has observed they have enough traffic from the dwindling Symbian OS user base, that is not matched by what nominally seems like a larger Windows OS smartphone user base.

Some of this we can understand from the stories that came out about Windows OS. They had that astonishing level of phones shipped that were never activated. So some were never sold, they went into discount bins and eventually were junked. Others were sold and returned and not in use. Others were sold or given out as freebies, and used for a while, but usage ended. Others may be in use but the usage has stopped being a smartphoen - and may be for example that a Lumia smartphone on Windows OS, is only used 'as a pocket camera' because of the good camera. And that owner has a separate phone on Android used for any connected needs (and apps).

Meanwhile what about Symbian? The last Symbian phones were often very top-end premium Nokia very best it made. So phones like the N8, the E9, the 808 Pureview etc. These were incredibly well manufactured (durable) phones, that were very expensive (when initially launched) and if bought in the EMERGING world, they would be seen as super-premium phones of at least same level of luxury appeal as an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, in many markets Nokia was the top brand not among phones but among ALL brands, ahead of Rolls Royce, Mercedes Benz, IBM and Rolex. Far far above the brands like Apple and Samsung. Those buyers, who spent big money on their Nokia phones, often INTENDED to sell them when used, and get good money selling them, and then upgrade (to the next Nokia) and then in the RESALE market, these were prized top phones of great prestige, like an older BMW or Mercedes will still get good money when its sold as an 5 year old, used car.

So the Symbian phone base was often bought to live long, they were well cared for - especially in emerging markets where phones often were resold when used. Then in the used phone market, they stood the value far stronger than a random HTC or LG or Motorola. So they also have a long life span in the used market.

I had calculated those factors in, when I had my model still isolate Symbian installed base (and the corresponding ultra-short life span of Windows OS). But this is still surprisingly durable slice of the market.

I think there are some issues to it. I think its STRONGLY REGIONAL. I would guess that continentally, Africa will have a sizable Symbian market left that is vastly greater than Windows. And where Lumia did get modest sales in the USA (Windows best market) and modest sales in Europe (Nokia home continent) they were among more affluent buyers, who have had ample opportunity to abandon that silly Windows OS and move onto Android or an iPhone. Those who bought expensive Symbian Nokia smartphones in Africa (or India or poor parts of Asia, Latin America) are far less eager to swap the phones every year or 18 months, and will hold onto their most expensive tech gadget far longer.

Also many other local issues, the Symbian ecosystem supported many local languages, local carrier billing, and had vast arrays of local app developers. They did not migrate to Windows OS on a whole because Windows performed better in US and Europe, and particularly poorly in the Emerging World where Nokia brand and Symbian had a strong foothold. There the Asha featurephone series did far better (in the months that both Lumia and Asha were sold side-by-side Asha actually outsold the Lumia series globally, even though Asha got minimal marketing support and Lumia had the largest promotion of any smartphone brand in history).

I love the numbers, SybianLover, thanks. I'll post a link to my Twitter followers and credit you as having found the story.

Tomi Ahonen :-)


Well, let us not get carried over with that support of Symbian by Whatsapp.

1) It is only till June 2017. It is just a reprieve.

2) OS whose support is discontinued end 2016 are Windows Phone 7, iOS 6/3GS, Android 2.1, 2.2. All very old platforms. I suspect the market share of WP7 must be truly infinitesimal.

3) Interestingly, Blackberry OS and v10 are given the same reprieve as Symbian.


Hi, Tomi;

You misnamed one of your categories. When you discussed the Internet (note the proper capitalization, please, and yes I'm a pedantic network geek from way back. ;-) ), you were really only discussing Web browsing. This is a critical distinction because the Internet is really a communications platform that enables virtually every other category that you have listed.

For example, carrier networks are no longer private networks with no interconnection to the rest of the world. Instead, they share the same IPv4 and IPv6 global address space that the rest of the Internet does. They route traffic to and from each other and the rest of the Internet seamlessly.

Every smartphone has at least one IP address assigned to it. (I just checked mine. It has two IP addresses, one IPv4 and one IPv6.) Any featurephone with with a browser has to have an IP address. Any cable TV or satellite receiver built in the last 10 years will have at least one IP address assigned. Then there's the Internet of Things that has all the marketing people hyperventilating at the thought of doing things like restocking our refrigerators when we're out of milk...

Email and MMS are also enabled via the global Internet. And that doesn't include the more niche applications like sales via gaming, Facebook, Google, etc.

So, if you want to talk about global reach of a communications platform, the Internet wins hands down. It's not even close. No other communications platform is within an order of magnitude.

It is appropriate to talk about global reach of the various services that run on top of it, however. In that case, Web browsing at #10 sounds about right.

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