The 100 million club 2013: the top 14 mobile markets by number of mobile subscriptions and 3G/4G subscribers

Welcome back to the 100 million club. It’s one year since mobiThinking last published the table of world’s largest mobile markets. Then there were 10… now there are 14 countries with over 100 million mobile subscriptions. The new members of the 100 million club are Vietnam, Bangladesh, The Philippines and Mexico; several countries such as Iran and Egypt are knocking at the door. See the original post, below, for a comparison.

The 14 countries account for more than 61 percent of the world’s total mobile subscriptions. China and India alone account for 29 percent of the world’s mobile users. Eight of the top 14 countries (nine if you include Russia) are in Asia, which is the largest continent for mobile users by far.

The table also includes data for 3G/4G subscriptions, i.e. mobile packages that include data on high-speed third or fourth generation networks. While you don’t need a 3G/4G to connect to the Web, it does make the experience faster and more enjoyable. 3G/4G subs are commonly taken to be a good indicator of mobile Web use in each country. Note: this table is ordered by total subscriptions, for the top countries for 3G or 4G – see: Top 10 countries by 4G subscribers.

Where possible, mobiThinking likes to use the latest stats from as close to the source as possible – starting with the national regulators or operators. The forward-looking organizations publish information monthly for total subs and 3G month – these include: TCA (Japan regulator) and Anatel (Brazil regulator) and China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom (the Chinese operators). The efforts by TRAI (Indian regulator) and NCC (Nigerian regulator) to distinguish between total and active subscriptions are also impressive. mobiThinking would like to see all regulators and operators worldwide make similar transparency their new year’s resolution.

Where data is unavailable from regulators/operators, mobiThinking has sourced stats from Paul Lambert at Informa.

As noted in the post below: subscriptions do not equal users, as many people will have multiple SIM cards for different devices. That’s why many countries have more subscriptions than people. Please don’t assume that 93.5 percent of people in the world have a mobile device.

The 100 million club: the top 14 mobile markets by number of subscriptions
  Country Mobile subscriptions
in millions
in millions
source: World bank
% of population 3G/4G subscriptions
in millions
% of population Sources:
3G subs
Last update
  World 6,587.4m 7,046m 93.5% 1,876.6m 26.6% Informa 06/13
1 China 1,218.5m 1,351m 90.2% 391m 28.9% China Mobile
China Unicom
China Telecom
2 India Active: 738.9m;
total: 870.6m
1,237m 59.7% 88.5m 7.2% TRAI
3 United States 345.2m 313.9m 110.0% 287.4m 91.6% Informa 06/13
4 Indonesia 285.0m 246.9m 115.4% 45.5m 18.4% Informa 06/13
5 Brazil 268.4m 198.7m 135.1% 77.9m 39.2% Anatel/Teleco 08/13
6 Russia 237.1m 143.5m 165.2% 41.2m 28.7% Informa 06/13
7 Japan 135.3m 127.6m 106.0% 107.7m 84.4% TCA 10/13
8 Vietnam 127.7m 88.8m 143.8% 18.0m 20.3% Informa 06/13
9 Pakistan 126.1m 179.2m 70.4% N/A N/A Informa 06/13
10 Nigeria Active: 120.9m;
total: 169.5m
168.8m 76.4% 12.7m 7.5% NCC
11 Germany 113.6m 81.9m 138.7% 46.0m 56.2% BNA
12 Bangladesh 110.7m 154.7m 71.6% 0.4m 0.2% BTRC
13 Philippines 109.5m 96.7m 113.2% 16.6m 17.1% Informa 06/13
14 Mexico 102.7m 120.8m 117.6% 19.8m 16.4% Informa 06/13
Source: Paul Lambert, Informa (Q2 2013); national telecoms regulators via: mobiThinking

• See mobiThinking’s guides to mobile in: NigeriaBrazilJapanGermanyUSAIndia

• If you would like to help with a guide to mobile in China, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Philippines, Mexico or any other major mobile market, or would like to help update any of our existing country guides, please email editor (at)

The 100 million club 2012: the top 10 mobile markets by number of mobile subscriptions

Original Article, published: November 15, 2012:

There are now 10 countries in the world with over 100 million mobile subscriptions, ranging from China with over a billion to Nigeria which passed the 100 million mark in August 2012. These are all documented in the table below. There are several countries such as Bangladesh and Mexico knocking at the door.
The top 10 countries account for more than 55 percent of the world’s total mobile subscriptions. This sounds pretty amazing considering that there are 196 countries in the world, until you consider the size of the populations. Nine out of 10 are also in the top 10 countries by population in the world (just switch Germany for Bangladesh) and collectively account for 57 percent of global population.

Data sourced from close to the source
Where possible, mobiThinking has sourced the data from the country’s telecoms regulator, association etc or directly from the operators. If unavailable, or if more up-to-date, data from analysts has been used. Most of the 3G subscriber stats were provided by Informa WCIS.

Mobile subscriptions v unique mobile users
Please note that mobile subscriptions are the number of SIM cards being used in each country, not the number of people using a mobile device. Some people have two mobile accounts on the go at a one time, possibly in two devices, possibly in a single dual-SIM device (which are becoming increasingly common in the developing world and are forecast by Strategy Analytics to reach 20 percent of handsets by 2016). Numbers may also include machine-to-machine (M2M), e.g. SIM cards used in smart electricity meters or vending machines. Hopefully all figures below are ‘active’ accounts, as number of active and total subscriptions can differ substantially, for example see India and Nigeria, below.
Wireless Intelligence estimates that in October 2012, there were 6.6 billion total connections in 2012 globally, excluding M2M. It considers 10 percent of these connections inactive, bringing the active total down to 5.9 billion. The analyst believes consumers use on average 1.85 SIM cards each (which is surprisingly high) which leads to the conclusion that unique mobile subscribers worldwide currently stands at 3.2 billion. If Wireless Intelligence has done its sums correctly, that means unique subscriber penetration is just 45 percent in 2012. That’s quite a difference from the 85.8 percent below, but leaves even more room for mobile growth than we all expected. Wireless Intelligence forecasts that unique mobile users will grow to 4 billion in five years.
Ericsson (June 2012) also believes that unique mobile users is considerably lower than subscriptions. It estimates that global mobile penetration reached 87 percent in Q1 2012 and mobile subscriptions now total around 6.2 billion. However, the actual number of subscribers is around 4.2 billion, since many people have several subscriptions.
“There is a large difference between the number of subscriptions and subscribers. This is due to the fact that many subscribers have several subscriptions. Reasons for this could include users lowering their traffic cost by using optimized subscriptions for different types of calls, maximizing coverage, having different subscriptions for mobile PCs/tablets and for mobile phones. In addition, it takes time before inactive subscriptions are removed from operator databases. Consequently, subscription penetration can easily reach above 100 percent, which is the case in many countries today. It should however be noted that in some developing regions, it is common for several people to share one subscription, having for example a family or village phone.” Ericsson forecasts that mobile subscriptions will reach 9 billion in 2017, of which 5 billion will be mobile broadband connections.

3G/4G subscriptions – a good indication of mobile Web penetration
mobiThinking has also included data for 3G/4G subscriptions, as this is a good indication of the number of mobile Web subscriptions (you don’t need third-generation or forth-generation mobile network connections to access the mobile Web, but it makes it a considerably more enjoyable experience). Of course, stats for mobile Web subscriptions would be better, but, of all 10 countries, only the Japanese regulator, TCA, provides this information.

National regulators, associations and operators need to publish 3G/4G subscription numbers
Too many regulators, including CTIA the US wireless association, and operators, neglect to make the number of 3G/4G subscriptions publically available. Where unavailable the table below uses data/estimates from analysts, mostly Informa WCIS.
The Chinese operators are in an arms race to accrue 3G subscribers (China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom proudly display monthly subscriber and 3G subscriber numbers in Chinese and English on their websites, for all to see, impressing advertisers, shareholders, customers and press), in a similar fashion to what happened in Japan over the last decade, helping Japan become the world’s most dynamic mobile market. Hopefully other operators in other countries will join the 3G – or 4G – arms race soon. As this will benefit subscribers, marketers and the mobile ecosystem as a whole.

The 100 million club: the top 10 mobile markets by number of subscriptions
  Country Mobile subscriptions
in millions
in millions
(source: World bank)
% of population 3G/4G subscriptions
in millions
% of population Sources
(subs; 3G subs)
Last update
  World 5,981 6,973.7 85.8% 1,593.9 23% ITU
Informa WCIS
End 2011
Dec 2012
1 China 1,091.9 1,344.1 81.2% 212 15.8% China Mobile;
China Unicom;
China Telecom
Nov 2012
2 India Active: 699; total: 906.6 1241 73.1% 70.6 6% TRAI
Informa WCIS
September 2012
3 United States 321.7 311.6 103.3% 256.0 81% CTIA
Informa WCIS
June 2012
Dec 2012
4 Indonesia 260 242.3 107.3% 47.6 19% BuddeComm
Informa WCIS
May 2012
Dec 2012
5 Brazil 259.3 196.7 131.8% 65.5 33.3% Anatel/Teleco
Oct 2012
6 Russia 227.1 141.9 160% 27.0 19% Wireless Intelligence
Informa WCIS
June 2012
Dec 2012
7 Japan 128.4 127.8 100.5% 104.4
(Mobile Internet subs)
81.7% TCA
October 2012
8 Pakistan 120.5 176.7 68.6% N/A N/A PTA Sept 2012
9 Germany 114.2 81.7 139.7% 53.2 65% Bundesnetzagentur
Informa WCIS
Q3 2012
Dec 2012
10 Nigeria Active: 106.9; total: 143 162.5 65.8% 10.5 6% NCC
Informa WCIS
Sept 2012
Dec 2012
Note: Informa 3G stats are forecasted estimates for Dec 2012. Data compiled by: mobiThinking

• mobiThinking has done its best to ensure that these figures are a) accurate and b) the most up-to-date available (for free). If you can help us improve any of this data, please email editor (at)

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