Last week marked a major milestone in global communications when the number of mobile subscriptions around the world reached five billion.
Ericsson says that, according to estimates based on industry information, the five billionth subscription was added on Thursday 8 July. This comes just 18 months after the four billion mark was reached at the end of 2008.
The main drivers of growth continue to be Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, which together accounted for 80% of global subscription net additions in the first half of 2010. Today, there are 450-million mobile subscriptions in Africa compared to the year 2000, when there were about 16-million subscriptions, less than the amount of users in Ghana today.
Mobile broadband subscriptions are growing at a similar pace and are expected to amount to more than 3.4-billion by 2015 (up from 360-million in 2009). Over 100-million of these will come from sub-Saharan Africa. Studies show that soon, 80% of all people accessing the Internet will be doing so using their mobile device. This is already the case in Africa.
For some it’s a question of convenience, for others it is a necessity. Mobile subscriptions allow people who don’t have access to a bank or a bank account to transfer money; fishermen and farmers can get quick updates on sudden changes in the weather forecast, villagers can get local medical care, and children can access online education. It facilitates daily operations of small businesses and drives economic growth.
In more mature markets, connected devices rather than people are driving the increase in network traffic.
"The use of mobile broadband is growing quickly, especially driven by consumers powered with smart phones and connected laptops and we at Ericsson envision 50-billion connected devices by 2020,” says Lars Lindén, head of Ericsson Region sub-Saharan Africa.
The communication landscape is changing rapidly and in December 2009, another milestone was reached when the amount of data traffic carried over mobile networks exceeded the amount of traffic generated from voice calls.
Machine-to-machine communications, or M2M, will be a key component in the future growth of the mobile industry. Medical applications include remote medical diagnostics which would facilitate the collection, monitoring, and analysis of patient data from rural and/or isolated locations. For energy companies it could be smart meters that read themselves, increase business efficiency and cut operational expenses. In transportation – tracking solutions improve route optimisation and safety for vehicles on the road and even digital signs that can be updated remotely, cameras that can send pictures halfway around the world are other examples that machine-to-machine technology make possible.