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Global Mobile Market Update


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State of the Global Mobile Union - 2012

  1. Total Global Mobile Revenues to hit $1.5 Trillion in 2012, over 2% of Global GDP

      Top 10 operators control 42% of the global data mobile revenues

  1. Mobile Services Revenue exceeded $1 Trillion for the first time in 2011

      The number of mobile operators with > $1 Billion in yearly data revenues will touch 50 in 2012

  1. Total Global Mobile Data Revenues went past $300 Billion in 2011

      Non-messaging data now owns 53% of the global mobile data revenues

  1. Mobile Operator Profits have more than doubled over the last 10 years.

      However, the wealth is not divided evenly. Asia’s share has tripled at the expense of Europe whose profit share has declined by 50%

  1. Total Global Subscriptions to exceed 7 Billion in early 2013

      China exceeds 1 Billion, India 950 Million. Subscriber growth is in Asia, Revenue growth is in Asia+North America

  1. China and India represent 27% of subscriptions but only 12% of the global service revenues

      US represents only 6% of the subscriptions but 21% of the global service revenues, 26% of the data revenues, and 27% of the global CAPEX

  1. Mobile Devices are now exceeding traditional computers in unit sales + revenue

      70% of the device sales in the US are now smartphones. Device Replacement cycle is shrinking

  1. Samsung and Apple now account for 50% of the smartphone unit share and 90% of the profit share

      Difficult environment for other OEMs esp. when ZTE and Huawei are coming strong from the bottom. It will be difficult for pure play device OEMs to survive long-term

  1. Tablets (iPads) has created a new computing paradigm that is having a significant impact on commerce, content consumption, and developer investments

      Apple will continue to dominate the segment and iOS will be the leading OS for the segment. Amazon, ZTE, Huawei, to chip away at the sub-$200 tier.

  1. Mobile Broadband (4G) is being deployed at a faster rate than previous generations, first time data is leading the charge

      Over 1.5 Billion broadband connections by 2012

  1. Global Mobile Apps revenue has completely (and irreversibly) tilted to off-deck

      The decline is directly proportional to the increase in smartphone penetration by region

  1. All major markets are consolidating with the top 3 players at 85% of the market

      Regulators will have to be more prudent and proactive about managing competitiveness and growth

  1. Mobile data traffic 2x YOY in most markets. Mobile Data will be 95% of the global mobile traffic by 2015

      Many countries are facing spectrum exhaust in the next 2-3 years (in certain markets)

  1. Mobile Signaling takes up 2x the resources as Mobile Data Traffic

      Signaling traffic is growing faster than the data traffic on broadband networks

  1. Connected device segment is growing at the fastest pace in the western markets

      Operators will have to quickly adapt their strategies to stay relevant in this segment

  1. Several multi-billion dollar opportunity segments are emerging

      Mobile Advertising, Mobile Commerce, Mobile Wellness, Mobile Games, and Mobile Cloud Computing to name a few

  1. Mobile Ecosystem has become very dynamic and unpredictable

      The 5 Platform Amigos – Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook dominate though the first two have the real power

  1. Mobile Operator Revenue is under pressure from OTT Players

      OTT Share of the Global Mobile Revenues increased to 4%

  1. OTT players forcing operators to up their game

      Operators are partnering, launching their own OTT apps, increasing tariffs to manage the margins

  1. Intellectual Property has become a key component of long-term product strategy

      21% of all patents granted in US are mobile related. Top 20 control 1/3rd of the overall mobile patent pool

  1. Mobile Patent Rankings: US – IBM, Microsoft, Nokia. Europe – Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia, Samsung.  Overall – Nokia, Samsung, Alcatel-Lucent

      OEMs – Nokia, Samsung, Sony. Service Providers – AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, Sprint

  1. In 3-5 years, with few exceptions, if a company is not doing majority of its digital business on mobile, it is going to be irrelevant

      Majority (by a good margin) of the consumer interactions with brands will be on mobile

  1. Mobile has become the single most important digital channel for engaging consumers and it shows

      In the US, mobile revenues were > all Ecommerce And > Music, ISP, Hollywood, and Cable revenues combined

  1. We have entered the mobile 3.0 era where “data” is all that matters and it disrupts the value chains

      Data will drive majority of the network growth, Contextual data will drive majority of the VAS growth

  1.    There will be more changes in the next 10 years than in the previous 100

      The value chains will keep disrupting every 12-18 months by the new players and business models. Several verticals are already getting redefined e.g. retail, health, education, etc.

The Big Picture


The global mobile industry is the most vibrant and fastest growing industry. We expect the total revenue in the industry to touch approximately $1.5 Trillion in 2012 with mobile data representing 28% of the mix. Mobile data services revenue stood at 33%. Global Mobile Data revenues eclipsed $300 Billion for the first time in 2011. It is also the first year in which non-messaging data revenues will make up the majority of the overall global data revenues at 53%.


By the end of 2011, the global subscriptions exceeded 6 Billion. The first 1 billion took over 20 years and this last one took only 15 months. The primary growth drivers are India and China which are cumulatively adding 75M new subs every quarter. China became the first country to eclipse the 1 billion mark in March 2012. India is likely to arrive at the milestone by early 2013.


Smartphones are driving tremendous growth around the globe. Amongst the major markets, US leads with 69% sales. The global figure stands at approximately 32%. Some operators expect 90-95% of their device sales to be smartphones in 2012. In terms of the actual smartphone penetration, we expect the US market to eclipse the 50% mark in 2012.


China leads in the number of subs but US dominates in both total and data revenue. A number of emerging nations are now in top 10 – Brazil, India, Russia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Mexico while once dominant – Korea, UK, Italy, Germany have dropped off or slipped in rankings.

Global Mobile Data Growth


Japan continues to be the leader in mobile data with NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, and Softbank Japan ahead of the pack in terms of mobile data revenue and data as a % of total ARPU. Country average is now at 60%.


Next, Australia and the US have made good inroads in the last two years. In fact, if we look at the overall data revenue, US is much further ahead than any other nation due to the size of the market.


While India has the highest subscriber growth rate in the world right now, the revenue generating opportunity remain down right anemic compared to other major markets with average dropping down to $2.50 in overall ARPU. Even with significant subscriber base, there is going to be a general lack of opportunity in the market for the next couple of years relative to other markets.

Devices – Changing Landscape


Apple has had the tablet space to itself. Thus far the response from the competitors has been tepid esp. on the pricing dimension. Apple has had such a mastery over the supply-chain and months ahead of the competition that by the time they figure out details, Apple already locks up the pricing advantage for the cycle. OEMs try to catch-up on the features but can’t do on the margins. OEMs can grow the pie by bringing products at a better price points that helps attract different demographics to the mix. Microsoft can make good inroads into the space with its Win8 tablet release in 2012 but it will be again in a catch-up mode as the iOS ecosystem will be even more robust by then. The cheaper Android tablets will do well in the market. As expected, tablets will pretty much eliminate the need for netbooks and are starting to eat into the desktop/laptop revenue.


Apple and Samsung are strong on the top. Huawei and ZTE are coming up strong from the bottom. The middle tier players will have a tough time going forward.


It will be difficult for pureplay device OEMs to survive long-term.


Nokia and RIM are under severe market scrutiny as investors and developers leave in droves. Lack of product planning and execution has left their market share in disarray. Nokia’s valuation has been cut into half. Nokia’s release of N9 shows the engineering and creative design depth but a lot is riding on the first generation of Nokia Windows Phones (Lumia). While the market hasn’t shown much appetite for Windows phone thus far, a good family of devices might be able to slow the loss trajectory and position the combined team for the up-for-grabs 3rd spot in the ecosystem. Given that the computing is shifting to mobile devices, we can expect some of the weaker desktop/laptop players will exit the industry.


Majority of the tablet use is in the WiFi mode because the primary use case is indoors and WiFi gives a better (and cheaper) user experience. However, of the users who use cellular, the churn is low. Once operators start to roll out user-friendly family data plans across multiple devices, we can expect the cellular activation go higher (e.g. Rogers, Vodafone Spain) but will still be dominated by WiFi overall.

Mobile VAS and OTT – The Big Picture

  • The traditional operator revenue streams of

      Voice – declining and under threat from VoIP

      Messaging – flattening/declining and under threat from IP messaging

      Access – rising but margins are shrinking fast

      VAS – declining in proportion to the growth of smartphones

  • Operators are fighting back with

      Voice – launching their own VoIP apps e.g. Bobsled from T-Mobile, partnering with VoIP players e.g. Skype integration, charging for VoIP apps e.g. TeliaSonera €6/month

      Messaging – launching their own IP messaging apps e.g. Huddle from AT&T, partnering with IP messaging players e.g. Whatsapp partnership

      Access – Tiering

      VAS – launch their own VAS apps and industry vertical apps and services

Managing Mobile Data Traffic and Profits


As a result of the data tsunami, there are two types of opportunities that are being created, one that take advantage of the data being generated in a way that enhances the user experience and provides value and the other in technologies that help manage the traffic data that will continue to grow exponentially.


To be able to stay ahead of the demand, significant planning needs to go in to deal with the bits and bytes that are already exploding. New technical and business solutions will be needed to manage the growth and profit from the services. Relying on only one solution won’t be an effective strategy to manage rising data demand. A holistic approach to managing data traffic is needed and our analysis shows that the cost structure can be reduced by more than half if a suite of solutions are deployed vs. a single dimensional approach and thus bringing the hockey stick curves of data cost more in line with the revenues and thus preserving the margins.


The decision making process within the operator organizations will need to be streamlined as well. Operators should also consider creating a senior post which focuses on both the cost side and the solution side so they can devise and institute a sustainable long-term policy and keep the margins healthy.

Mobile Intellectual Property

  • The IP tussles are playing out as expected

  • Players with strong IP portfolios will be able to command better negotiating positions, new revenue streams, competitive positioning over the long-term

  • On average mobile companies file patents 1.7 times more in the US vs. Europe

  • Mobile Patent Leaders in US: IBM, Microsoft, Nokia

  • Mobile Patent Leaders in Europe: Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia, Samsung

  • Mobile Patent Leaders in Infrastructure: Samsung, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson

  • Mobile Patent Leaders in Devices: Nokia, Samsung, Sony

  • Mobile Patent Leaders in Service Providers: AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, Sprint

  • Top 20 control 1/3rd of the total mobile communications patent pool

Mobile Competitive Dynamics


The Rule of Three is evident in all major markets. While the percentage market share might vary, on an average, the top 3 control 93% of the market in an given nation. It doesn’t matter if the market is defined by “controlled regulation” like in China, Korea, and Japan or if it is “open market” driven in markets such as the US, UK, and India. Eventually, only top 3 operators control the majority of the market. There are niches that others occupy but they are largely irrelevant to the overall structure and functioning of the mobile market.


Markets such as US and India experienced similar competitive environment in their hyper-growth phase. For the US, this phase was in the nineties-mid-2000s while India has been experiencing the similar environment in the last 3-4 years. In both cases, at the start there are 5-6 players with no more than 25% market share but higher than 10% of the mix but gradually the market forces enable consolidation. Over a period of 18 years, US is settling into a “top 3” operator market. India’s brutal price wars are going to trigger the consolidation in the next 12-24 months and will eventually settle into a structure similar to other markets.


The competitive equilibrium point in the mobile industry seems to when the market shares of the top 3 are 46%:29%:18% respectively with the remaining 7% being allocated to the niche operators. To achieve some semblance of equilibrium in the market the top operator shouldn’t have more than 50% of the market share and the number three player shouldn’t have less than 20%. This helps create enough balance in the market to derive maximum value for the consumer.


Mobile operators will face some hard choices in developing and protecting the role they want to play in a given region and the ecosystem at-large. The strategy they choose will have a direct impact on the expected EBITDA margins, investment required over the long-haul, how investors view them, and on the competitive landscape of the country. Given, the fast pace of globalization, new rules and trends might emerge over the course of this decade that further define “communications” and “computing” as we know.

Key Industry Micro-Milestones


  1. Apple captures 70% of mobile device profits – defies gravity, obliterates competition
  2. Apple mobile appstore downloads exceed 25 Billion, 100 Million on Mac – can you spell domination
  3. Samsung ends Nokia’s 14 year reign as the device king – brutal execution
  4. Android 300M activations – Juggernaut
  5. Paypal does $7B in mobile transaction volume
  6. Square does $5B in commerce transaction volume
  7. Google > $5B in mobile revenues
  8. Microsoft revenues from Android > Windows Mobile
  9. Pandora’s 70% usage is on mobile, Twitter’s 60% of the usage is on mobile – heading towards a mobile-dominant world
  10. Facebook Instagram Acquisition $1B – Mobile only acquisition to beef up mobile strategy
  11. Angry Birds approaches a billion downloads
  12. ESPN does 3.1 billion minutes on mobile in 3/12 – Mobile is where the action is
  13. Skype traffic over 150 billion minutes – OTT pressure
  14. KPN messaging volumes decline 15% YOY – OTT pressure
  15. Mobile Security threats grow 7x in last two years, Android threats up 3000% – Mobile IS IT
  16. Cisco BYOD ratio – 70% (up 52% in 2011) - BYOD is creating new opportunities for vendors
  17. US data traffic over 130 quadrillion bytes/month in 2011 – Data traffic 2X YOY, welcome to the yottabyte era
  18. Fandango sells quarter of its ticket on mobile – commerce is happening
  19. Expedia does > $1B in mobile commerce – see above
  20. Microsoft Nokia Multi-Billion partnership – It takes two to tango
  21. Lightsquared fails – Keep your friends close, enemies closer
  22. Google Motorola $12.5B – IP becomes key to strategy
  23. Nortel Patent acquisition $4.5B – IP becomes key to strategy
  24. AT&T/T-Mobile Failure – DOJ/FCC put down the gavel
  25. 40% of Kenya’s GDP comes from mobile money – impact of mobile is pervasive
  26. Millennial Media IPO at $2B – first public market validation of the mobile advertising space
  27. HP gives up on Palm – Competition forces Corporate Schizophrenia


What to expect in 2H 2012

  • More Tiering, faster pace of change of plans. More options, family data plans

  • Cost reduction is as important as revenue generation. More players will align their value-chains and cost structures

  • Facebook IPO is probably going to be the single biggest event in the technology industry in the next few months.

  • Radios will start connecting the digital world with the physical world with significant disruption opportunity

  • Mobile Payment Networks will remain intact for the near future as the ecosystem largely focuses on building value on top of the existing exchange platforms

  • The intersection of Social, Location, Identity, and Gaming is creating new opportunities

  • With connectivity becoming pervasive, mobile will fundamentally start to alter the legacy infrastructure – retail, health, education, energy, computing, travel, entertainment

  • Significant tablet adoption in the enterprise directly impacting the traditional computer manufacturers

  • Both HTML5 and Apps will continue to grow, the relevancy to any given application will depend on the reach and economics requirements. HTML5 is not going to replace Apps.

  • Mobile data growth will double again in 2012. Significant opportunities in managed and understanding of mobile data growth

  • Regulators will need to evolve to keep up with the trend to keep their nation globally competitive

  • More IP scuffles before licensing settlements

  • Consolidation of weaker players, more global M&A

  • Significant progress in emerging areas like mHealth, mPayments will come from the developing world while the western countries get mired in regulatory and legacy mess

  • Several players face challenging times ahead and 2012 will be critical in their turn around sojourn.

Your feedback is always welcome.

Chetan Sharma

We will be keeping a close eye on the trends in the wireless data sector in our blogtwitter feeds, future research reports, and articles. The next US Wireless Data Market update will be released in May 2012. The next Global Wireless Data Market update will be issued in Apr 2012.

Disclaimer: Some of the companies mentioned in this paper are our clients.

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In addition, Chetan will be doing some private briefings to carriers, content providers, vendors, VCs, and enterprise solution providers

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© Chetan Sharma Consulting 2001-2012. All Rights Reserved.
Chetan Sharma Consulting is a management consulting and advisory firm helping companies in the mobile and voice communications sector. Our expertise is in developing innovation-driven product, business, and IP strategy. We've helped companies like NTT DoCoMo, China Mobile, Samsung, KDDI, Motorola, Alcatel-Lucent, Sony, Microsoft, Virgin Mobile, KTF, Sprint Nextel, Reuters, Disney, Qualcomm, Reliance, BEA, HP, Merrill Lynch, Cincinnati Bell, Bain, SAP, Vulcan, American Express, and many others. What can we do for you?


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