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A Regional Perspective on the Global Mobile Market

Marissa Delisle
Marketing Specialist at Digital Turbine
Sep 6, 2017

Discover the world's need-to-know mobile regions (APAC, Latin America, and EMEA)

As one of the most dynamic, multi-faceted, and rapidly evolving consumer markets, the global mobile ecosystem is entering an exciting moment of sustained growth.

Data mining, 5G capabilities, and emerging consumer markets for smart devices are combining forces in 2017 to create new opportunities for consumers and businesses alike. A recently released global report by We Are Social, titled Digital in 2017: A Global Overview, details the extreme (and global) growth of mobile. When you consider the sheer size of the world’s population (7.476 billion people and counting), some of the numbers are truly astounding:

  • 3.77 billion people now have access to the internet… that is over half of the world’s population!
  • 4.92 billion people are mobile users (66% of the population)
  • 1.61 billion people are engaged in ecommerce (22% of the population)
  • Active mobile social users grew 30% from 2016>
  • Internet users grew 10% from 2016
  • Unique mobile users grew 5% from 2016

These numbers clearly demonstrate that steady and consistent growth continue to be the dominate theme of “global mobile.” While both domestic consumers and businesses are intimately familiar with the growth of the U.S. and North American mobile markets, the numbers mentioned above prove that the global mobile market is more pertinent than ever.

Considering that only 4.4% (i.e. roughly 319 million people) of the world’s population call the U.S. home, there is no better time than now for some “fast facts” on today’s most import regional mobile markets (excluding North America).

Let’s take a look.

APAC (Asia Pacific)

As the world’s largest and most populous region, the mobile market in APAC (in particular India and China) is predicted to contribute more than $1.7 trillion to the region’s Gross Domestic Product by 2020. Not only does APAC account for the majority of the global mobile subscriber base, but it has been the biggest contributor to global mobile growth over the past five years.

Here are some of the numbers and facts you need to know:

  • Smartphones: APAC is expected to reach more than 1.4 billion smartphone users by 2019 (with China accounting for more than 28% of all smartphone users on the planet).
  • 5G: As alluded to in the opening comments, 5G capabilities will play a significant role in the future of mobile. The GSM Association predicts that APAC will have 670 million 5G connections by 2020, far and away the global leader in 5G adoption. While a global leader in adoption, we should not overlook the fact that APAC (perhaps more importantly) is also playing a key role in the development of modern 5G mobile technologies that will soon make their way to the rest of the world.
  • M-commerce: With the global app economy expected to reach 6.3 billion users by 2021, APAC is leading the way by doubling down on m-commerce. According to Neilsen, not only does APAC lead the global mobile economy with m-commerce usage rates, but it has five individual countries (China, India, South Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia) where m-commerce exceeds the global average.

As mobile adoption will likely only continue to grow in this “mobile first” region, it is very likely that the impact of mobile will stretch far and wide. With nine APAC countries already at the same or higher smartphone ownership rate as the U.S., the time to focus on APAC is now.

Latin American

While a rapidly growing market in its own right, the role of the mobile market in Latin America cannot simply be defined by Gross Domestic Product, revenues, and market penetration. The growth of Latin America’s mobile market is in fact helping promote and further policies of inclusivity in a region notorious for its barriers to entry. According to The GSM Association, Latin America’s mobile ecosystem provided 1.9 million jobs in 2015, and made a $40 billion contribution to the public sector through taxation. This, in a region that calls home to one of the world’s most astounding income inequality gaps, is especially important.

Let’s take a closer look at some Latin American mobile facts:

  • Social Media Use: In Latin American, social media is king. According to some recent numbers from Statista, the total number of Latin American mobile phone social network users is expected to reach 252 million by 2019. Latin Americans spend more time on social media than any other mobile market demographic in the world, with Facebook having an impressive mobile reach of 90% in many countries.
  • Expanding Coverage: While APAC focuses on developing and implementing 5G and other nextgen mobile technologies, Latin America is rapidly improving its coverage capabilities. According to the same GSM Association study cited above, 4G coverage is expected to reach 80% of the population by the end of 2017. This, taken together with a regional smartphone adoption rate of nearly 70%, means that more and more of the population will very soon have access to, and the ability to take advantage of, high speed mobile networks.
  • Android Adoption: With such high income inequality plaguing the population, smartphone adoption fell as low as 15% in 2012. While the problem of Latin American income inequality continues to persist in 2017, the region has seen a significant increase in Android smartphone adoption due the generally lower price points. In fact, it is now estimated that roughly 78% of smartphone owners in the region are using a mobile phone powered by the Google operating system. While some Latin American countries continue to employ highly protectionist economic measures that result in increased prices for consumer goods, (i.e. the most expensive iPhone in the world), the numbers show that imported goods are increasingly becoming more easily accessible.

While continued economic growth, both within the Latin American mobile market and the greater regional economy, is expect for the near future, mobile user adoption will likely hinge on removing barriers to infrastructure deployment. This means employing a new take on both regulatory and social policies, and enacting those that will help modernize the region and stimulate further development of the regional mobile market.

EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa)

With a geographic area spanning all of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, the EMEA is as diverse in culture as it is in systems of governance and economic policy. Traditionally grouped together for practicality and convenience purposes (i.e. 6-8 hours flying time in most directions), we will split the EMEA in two (i.e. Europe and the Middle East & Africa) for a brief overview of each separate sub-region. The purpose is to use some quick statistics to shed light on the state of mobile in each separate cluster of diverse countries.

Without further adieu, let’s take a broad look at both Europe and the Middle East & Africa (“MEA”) as separate sub-regions:

  • Europe: Long held to be one of the world’s most competitive and mature mobile markets, The GSM Association expects the European mobile market to have a world leading mobile user penetration rate of 81.4% (i.e. 450 million people) by 2020. It further expects over 90% of its population to have mobile coverage, again leading the way globally. When taken together with the estimated 1.57 million jobs created by the EU-28 app economy, and the fact that EU-28 mobile payments are expected to triple by 2020, the future of the European mobile market continues to looks bright.
  • Middle East & Africa: Of all the regional markets covered in this post, only APAC bests the the MEA when it comes to the sheer number of mobile users it contains. Predicted to reach over 789 million users (with 51% user penetration) by 2019, the MEA is as diverse as it is large. Although The GSM Association reports that mobile growth has slowed in recent years, the number of smartphone connections in the MEA has more than doubled over the last three years (i.e. to 263 million users), while mobile technologies and services across Africa generated have $153 million in economic value (i.e. 6.7% of the region’s GDP). With McKinsey & Company reporting a ten-year Middle East cross-border data flow increase of 150-fold, it appears that mobile users in the MEA are encouraging their governments to quickly embrace the global mobile boom.

In Conclusion…

Ending where we began (i.e. with a global perspective), it is easy to see that the digital age “mobile boom” is not simply a North American or United States phenomenon. Even the briefest review shows an impossible to ignore global growth. With ever increasing penetration in both emerging and established markets, mobile phones, smart devices, and the internet appear primed to continue to evolve and improve the world in which we respectively live, whatever corner of the earth it may be.

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