The number of global mobile subscribers will race past five billion this year and get close to topping six billion by the end of the decade.

According to the GSMA’s ‘2017 ‘Mobile Economy’ report the five billion subscriber milestone will be reached by the middle of this year and will ramp up to 5.7 billion by 2020 – that’s three quarters of the world’s population.

The increase is expected to be driven by large Asian markets such as India which, the GSMA stated, will alone add 130 million new unique subscribers by 2020.

“Mobile is delivering the connectivity and infrastructure that is powering new digital economies and addressing socioeconomic challenges,” said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA.

“The near ubiquity of smartphones and high-speed connectivity is enabling innovation in areas such as artificial intelligence and driving the digital transformation.

“Mobile operators have invested over a trillion dollars in their networks since 2010 and will invest a further $700 billion over the remainder of the decade as we enter the 5G era.” 

The study revealed that at the end of 2016 there were 4.8 billion unique mobile subscribers and 7.9 billion SIM connections worldwide.

More than half of these connections, 55 percent, run on mobile broadband 3G and 4G networks with the proportion tipped to increase to 75 percent by 2020.

Looking further ahead, the study forecasted that the first commercial 5G networks, based on LTE Release 15, will launch in 2019 and will provide coverage to a third of the world’s population by 2025.

The number of 5G connections is forecast to reach 1.1 billion by that time.

The study also revealed that mobile technologies and services accounted for 4.4 percent of global GDP in 2016, around $3.3 trillion of economic value, and will likely top more than $4.2 trillion by 2020.

In a separate report – Messaging as a Platform – The Operator Opportunity – the GSMA highlighted the central role telcos could play in the future of Messaging as a Platform (MaaP).

MaaP combines the features of advanced messaging with standardised interfaces to chatbots and plugins that, the GSMA stated, create a richer experience for consumers and allow businesses to realise the application-to-person potential of IP messaging.

It said customers were moving away from apps for interacting with companies and service providers, “towards a simpler more intuitive chat-based experience”.

Indeed, it said 51 percent of mobile enabled consumers expect 24/7/365 answers and services from business.

“This is an opportunity for operators to deliver an enhanced IP-based messaging service that puts subscribers in control,” said Alex Sinclair, Chief Technology Officer, GSMA.

“Through partnerships and industry collaboration, operators can play a central role in delivering a unified, consistent and engaging user experience that can be scaled to create a global community.”

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