More Cell Phones Than People

In mobile expansion rate, Latin America is catching up with Western countries: the region currently accounts for 10% of the global mobile market, according to a report by GSMA Intelligence titled “The Mobile Economy in Latin America 2013”. That is double the size than 10 years ago. Nicaragua, for instance, has 40% more mobile phones now than in 2008.

The total mobile revenue in the region was of $107 billion in 2012, with an annual growth rate of 9%, the document points out. Particularly, smart-phones are spreading fast across the region. Not long ago, it was an item usually glued to a white-collar’s hand or ear. Today, more and more layers of the society are reaching its use, generating a tremendous growth in Internet data traffic and device sales. The World Bank had no doubt last year in stating that “Latin America leads global mobile growth” as one of the highlights of its “Maximizing Mobile for Development” report.

Up to 98% of subcontinent’s population has mobile cell signal. Even in the remotest places people can be found furiously typing on their smart-phones. Farmers, businessmen, doctors and shopkeepers are connected by these devices. It couldn’t be by chance that the world’s richest man (Mexican Carlos Slim) built up his fortune over Mexico’s and later over the whole Latin American telecommunications market.

According to GSMA’s report, at the end of 2013, smart-phone penetration “will approach 20% of the population” in Latin America, a slightly lower than the world average and “it is expected to reach 44% in 2017 “. Moreover “in 2020 this business will generate 4.5% of GDP in the region (equivalent to 350 billion dollars),” concludes the report.

But there is more. According to Telefonica Digital director of global advertising sales Simon Birkenhead, 35% of Internet users in the region will be accessing the web solely via smart-phones by 2015. In a presentation at the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), Birkenhead said that consumers in Latin America are much more open to sharing data than shoppers in Europe, with its research partly attributing this to a growing middle class who is keen to find deals for products they once could only aspire to purchase.

As a result, the subcontinent has become an intriguing target for the mobile communications industry. The only concern is the still unbalanced growth within the society, as many users own two lines while others can’t even afford one, and there is still a limited mobile broadband penetration due to high prices and poor service quality.

*Image: Flickr user MattJP.

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