Charting the rise of mobile device subscriptions around the world
There were approximately 8.6 billion mobile device subscriptions worldwide in 2021, more than there are people on the planet.
Yet, while cellphones, tablets and other devices have become extremely common around the world, access still varies widely from country to country.
Using data from Our World in Data, this chart by Pablo Alvarez tracks the rise of cellphones around the world, showing the gaps in cellphone subscriptions in specific countries.
The evolution of the mobile market
Before diving into the current divide, it is worth briefly explaining how the overall cell phone market and mobile devices in general have evolved over the past three decades.
Below is a summary of the history of the mobile market since its appearance in the early 90s.
The 90s and the beginning of the 2000s: the beginning
The first mobile device hit the market in 1983, with Motorola’s launch of the DynaTAC 8000X. This bulky analog phone cost nearly $4,000 and had to be recharged after 30 minutes of use.
By the early 1990s, innovation in the industry had taken off somewhat, with various manufacturers like Nokia and Sony starting to release their own devices.
While this offered consumers more product options, the technology was still relatively new and mobile adoption was relatively low compared to current numbers.
2007 and beyond: Apple opens the market
Although many companies launched cell phones and a few launched the first tablets like the PalmPilot and the Nokia 770, it was Apple’s foray into the market that changed things.
The launch of the iPhone in 2007 and the debut of the iPad in 2010 ushered in a new era of mobile devices. Their touchscreen design was revolutionary at the time, and they were also exceptionally more functional thanks to the App Store, since users could quickly download hundreds of different mobile apps and games.
This is when the rise of mobile really started to pick up speed all over the world. In 2007, there were nearly 3.4 billion mobile device subscriptions worldwide, representing about 50% of the world’s population.
Today: Mobile devices are common, but not ubiquitous
In many parts of the world, millions of people rely on their cellphones and tablets every day for work, socializing, or simple day-to-day activities, like figuring out a route or deciding what to cook for dinner.
Yet, while global mobile subscriptions have overtaken the world’s population, adoption has not been evenly distributed across the world.
Here is an overview of mobile device subscriptions for 100 people, in 12 different regions:
|Country||Mobile subscriptions for 100 people (2020)|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||291|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||161|
|🇺🇸 United States||106|
|🇸🇸 South Sudan||12|
As the table above shows, some regions have far more mobile phone subscriptions than people, while other places lag behind.
In surplus regions, people likely have multiple SIM-enabled devices and gadgets like smartwatches and connected cars. This explains how in Macau, mobile subscriptions are more than 300% greater than the population of the country.
On the other hand, in South Sudan, there are only 12 mobile phone subscriptions for every 100 people in the country. Poverty is widespread throughout the country, which partly explains its relatively low number of mobile subscriptions. According to the World Bank, only 7.2% of the population of South Sudan has access to electricity.