Posted By Tomi T Ahonen ] Via

This is the time of the year when we can do verification of many statistics, was it true what they said back then. I have good data now on SMS, MMS, Mobile Internet users and consumers of Mobile News.

The regular readers of this blog know that I have a passion for the numbers of the industry, the statistics. I load my books with them, I cram my presentations full of them and I quote stats in most any discussion I have about this industry. There are many reasons for my love of mobile industry statistics, but one of the biggest is that we have them. Those who know me from more than ten years ago, will remember the young Nokia executive who was peddling future stories about something we called 3G, and used utter promiseware and forecasts built on nothing but assumptions. After my career at Nokia, when I started my consultancy on October 1, 2001, there could be no stats for the new 3G industry, because literally that very same day the 3G industry was launched in Japan. I love the numbers of our industry so much, because way back then in the olden days, we didn’t have any numbers.

I have been desperate to find the ‘facts’ the stats the numbers and the proof, that this industry is and can be viable. As over the years the numbers started to appear, I have collected them feverishly, memorizing every detail and studying every variation. That passion eventually turned into an annual review of where the industry numbers are, at this blog. And two years ago, I turned that into the TomiAhonen Almanac, which is now an annual statistical publication and highly respected and widely quoted.

But with the numbers, I often get the question, where do the numbers come from. And I explain, the numbers in the Almanac are produced by my consulting company, TomiAhonen Consulting, as short-term forecasts, based on very many public data sources, with some TomiAhonen Consulting actual surveys, fortified with some data from my internal sources inside the industry. All of that goes into my big ‘black box’ ie my big model of the industry’s numbers and facts. There I have several proprietary formulae with which I generate the numbers. So for example I was the first person in the world to spot the multiple subscription (first discovered in Finland obviously) and have had more than 13 years of time to build, test and evolve my multiple subscription model to calculate out the multiple subscriptions from the total subscriber count of any country. When later tested against known (surveyed) results, my model has proven remarkably accurate. And so forth.

So in the current TomiAhonen Almanac 2010, I have over 80 tables and charts of mostly data that is not available in any public data source. And then inevitably one will want to know, how accurate is it. Tomi ‘claims’ that SMS had 3.6 Billion users worldwide, which was 78% of all mobile phone subscribers at the time. How can that be, when we see for example in the USA, that only 62% of Americans were using SMS at the same time. Is Tomi ‘exaggerating’ and how reliable are his numbers. Obviously, over time, we will get other, independent sources that report on many of the stats in my Almanac. Which of the stats get reported, I have no control over. But any one of them could potentially make me look ridiculous haha..

But for the mobile service user numbers, we have had several major analyst houses do international surveys over the past two years, which give us enough data to cover most if not all of the 25 largest countries on the planet. These 25 countries all have populations of (around) over 50 million up to China and India at 1.3 and 1.2 Billion respectively. Together thse 25 countries account for 5 billion people and 74% of the planet’s population. As it includes some of the most affluent countries like the USA, Japan, UK etc, and some of the poorest like Ethiopia, the Congo and Bangladesh, across the globe, it is a very good sample, from which we can fairly calculate a world average number for these statistics. Note that none of the analyst houses has bothered to go study each of these countries, but they can cover half a dozen or more, with usually regional focus areas. Specifically I am referring to public source information in press releases, white papers and news stories covering research by (in alphabetical order) Acision, Aenas, Asia Marketing Yearbook, Boston Consulting, ComScore, gfk, Informa, Jagtag, Nielsen, Ofcom, Pew, Research & Markets, TNS and Trak In. This data has then been supplemented with national regulator data, major operator data, and major domestic newspaper stories for those countries in those areas where these analysts had not covered that country or that service category. For the best case (SMS use) I had over 90% of the data points, for the worst case (News) I had 45%. I think these were enough that we can make very reliable nationally tested and relevant calculations of how many people are truly currently using these services. So lets go to the findings.


For SMS I had written in the TomiAhonen Almanac 2010 that the end of year 2009 user level for SMS globally was 78%, ie 3.6 Billion. What kind of data points do we find? The USA is now up to 72%. Russia is at 80%, Germany at 88%, Italy 89%, the UK at 90%. Clearly my number is in that ballpark. There are lower numbers too. I was surprised to find that the latest finding from India says only 48% of the mobile phone subscribers in India use SMS, but this is probably due to the rapid expansion of mobile phones to those parts of the population who are not literate. Brazil was at 57% and Mexico at 68%. But Vietnam is at 90%, China at 93%. And so forth. So when we do all the math weighted by the size of each nation’s population, we arrive at an SMS user level of… 79%. First, wow that is as close as it can possibly be. Remember I said 78% at the start of the year, and this 79% is roughly from half-point in the year 2010 (the various studies were completed at different points in time, in most cases during 2010, some in 2009). I had been saying before, that the SMS user base grows roughly 2 percentage points annually, so this finding is also totally consistent with the number having been 78% at the start of the year!

And projecting it to 80% for end of year 2010, what would the SMS user base be today (when the world has 5.2 Billion mobile phone subscribers?) 4.16 Billion. If you round off that number, in round terms its 4.2 Billion. And you know what? ABI Research reported on December 29 of 2010, that by their calculations the world had …4.2 Billion users of SMS text messaging. It cannot get more precise than this haha. Can you trust my numbers? I think I know pretty well what I am doing haha. Now, lets go to the hidden success story of mobile, MMS.


One year ago, in the TomiAhonen Almanac 2010, I said that the active user base of MMS had reached 1.7 Billion people, which was 37% of all mobile phone subscribers at the time. Using the same process as the above, lets pick a few of the data points we find now from the surveys. In the USA, MMS is used by 54%. In China 49%. In Russia 36%. In Indonesia 25%. In Italy 42%. In Mexico 25%. In Turkey 26%. You get the picture. After all the math is done, the world’s average user base of MMS at roughly mid-point of the year 2010 was a bit more than my 37%, it was… 39%. I said the world had 1.7 Billion users, I should have said 1.8 Billion. If we add a bit of growth for the year, today the world has 40% of all mobile phone subscribers as active users of MMS, and that means 2.08 Billion people, lets call it 2.1 Billion. That is the measured, accurate MMS user base today. No wonder MMS revenues grew so heavily last year. And by the way, in the most advanced countries like say Norway, the MMS user number is now at 84%, but Norway is too small a country to count in my model. The real number is probably even higher than what the model now predicts (by a fraction of a percent..)


So then the contentious number. The reported stories about mobile browsing are all over the place. We see some famous analysts like Morgan Stanley say that the point of when more than half of all internet users access from mobile phones will happen in a couple of years from now, while others like IBM and Nokia saying the world has already passed that point, and today more people access the internet on a mobile phone than on a PC of any kind. One way to examine the absolute truth, is to count actual national internet user data, and see what percentage of it uses mobile phones. Using that method, I already confirmed that the mid-point had been passed in late 2009, that yes, today more people access internet content, or ‘surf’ or use browsing services on a mobile phone than on a PC worldwide. I am quick to add, that this includes WAP, the basic form of browsing which is not HTML traditional ‘real internet’ browsing but rather the more simplified and mobile-optimised ‘small screen’ mobile internet use, but nonetheless, if its Google on your phone or Yahoo or eBay or Facebook or Twitter, who cares if its on WAP or HTML web, its the familiar internet brand, and its delivered on a browser, on your phone. For those consumers they think they are surfing the ‘real’ internet if they Google on their phone and it gives them the result. But yes, to be clear, when I say ‘mobile browsing’ I do mean both ‘real internet’ browsing of HTML content like we’d do on our iPhones, or the more basic WAP use that many do, in particular in the Emerging World markets. Still, just looking at the 10 largest countries by internet users, 6 out of the 10 have already passed the point where more internet browsing comes from mobile phones than PCs, starting obviously with China, India, Russia, Japan etc.

Now, in my TomiAhonen Almanac 2010, I said that the user base of mobile browsing was 1.3 Billion people ie 28% of all mobile phone users. What does the survey tell us. Not quite that good. When we measure mobile phone users and how many use the mobile internet, we have countries like China 24%, USA 38%, France 37% and Germany 27%. Then there is Japan at 84% of course. But then we have countries Russia 12%, Pakistan 22%, India 10%, and Spain 20%. The math doesn’t come quite up to my percentage, rather than 28%, the survey result only confirms 26%. But that is still 1.2 Billion people -well more than the total installed base of personal computers in use in the world according to the latest ITU numbers. So my short term forecast seems to be a bit off on this.

But here, a very important point – these surveys are mostly consumer surveys, ie the companies like ComScore or TNS or Pew will ask the consumers what they are doing. So the consumer is asked for example ‘do you use SMS text messaging on your phone’ or ‘do you use the internet on your phone’. And here, there is confusion. I have heard from several of my colleagues, that measuring the mobile internet usage in consumer surveys will under-count the real usage. The consumers are confused on this question, because they feel the internet experience is used ‘on a PC, using a keyboard and mouse’ – but if the same consumer is asked for example, ‘do you use Facebook on your phone’ there will be many who say ‘yes’ to that, while saying ‘no’ in the same questionnaire if asked if they use the internet on the phone. I am not saying this as an ‘excuse’. I am saying this as my finding, that on this specific question, apparently, with ‘WAP’ and ‘Mobile Internet’ and ‘mobile browsing’ and ‘mobile web’ and whatever other possible permutations, the consumer can become very confused. A good market reserach instrument (the questionnaire) will attempt to correct for these types of errors, but they are likely to be in some of those findings.

What I will do, of course – numbers are my buddies – is to tell the truth of course – and to adjust my numbers downwards for the next TomiAhonen Almanac 2011, to reflect these findings. That is the very purpose of this process, that I always do at this time of year, I try to fine-tune and calibrate my model to be as accurate as it possibly can be, and there will invariably be small alterations I have to do to it across hundreds of data points. But for you the reader, I want to express the particular problem with this specific data point (which is not the problem with the three other data points we have here in this blog). And what kind of numbers do we now have for end-of-year 2010, if we use the 26% level for the full 5.2 Billion mobile phone subscribers? Try 1.35 Billion people who today are (definitely) using their phones to browse internet type of content. Wow. That is huge.

Remember, the total internet user base is 2 Billion now (said ITU a couple of weeks ago) and that 2 Billion number includes also those hundreds of millions who access the internet in internet cafe type of situations or libraries or at school or university. The world has only 538 households with a personal computer (ITU 2010). Then we have another about 370 million PCs used at work (many of these users will also have a PC at home so you cannot add the two numbers together). Clearly the mobile phone based internet access is far greater than PC-based access already today, but also, in the Industrialized World most of us who have a PC will also have a smartphone or premium featurephone that has a full HTML browser, so we can easily access internet services on both devices. Then as smartphones keep getting better, like the iPhone 4 for example, the stats now report that people are abandoning laptops and desktops and doing all their surfing on their smartphones. Not all users but the trend is away from legacy PC use. Japan saw this trend first, half a decade ago.


Finally we have consumption of news on the mobile phone. I see a lot of numbers on music use, ringing tones, listening to music etc, and on gaming downloads etc. Those numbers are so frequently reported over the years that my numbers are very well in line with the industry. But news is more obscure and for it we have just about enough data to make a good projection for world use. We find data points like 23% of mobile subscribers in China consume news, 30% in Japan, 35% in the Philippines, 32% in Thailand, 23% in the USA and 21% in Germany, but only 8% in Indonesia, and so forth. The calculated world average based on the sample, is 23%, which corresponded to 1.1 Billion users at mid-point in the year 2010. What did my TomiAhonen Almanac 2010 tell you a year ago? It said that at the start of the year the world had… 1.1 Billion people who consumed news on their phones. Is that accurate or what? Well, lets take this to the end-of-year numbers for 2010, so today the user number, assuming no growth in the percentage, is 1.2 Billion people. Bear in mind that the world circulation of newspapers, paid and free, is 480 million daily. 2.5x more people pay to consume news on a phone than on a newspaper. What of cable and satellite TV like our CNN, etc? The world has 950 million paid cable TV/satellite TV subscribers. So more people today pay to consume news on their phones than pay to see news on their TVs. Note, there is still free over-the-air TV, the world has 1.6 Billion TV sets – so mobile has still a couple of years to go to pass that for news, but for paid news, mobile is already the world’s most used paid newsmedium. Makes you think… No wonder CNN, the BBC and just about every major news organization is rushing to deploy mobile services.


So we have big numbers. 4.2 Billion active users of SMS text messaging. Wow. The most used data application on the planet, by far. More than twice as many people send text messages on their phones, than use the internet on any device. More actve users of SMS than total number of FM radios in the world. Except for the population of mobile phones themselves, SMS is the second most widely-reaching medium and technology. And still growing strong. SMS added 600 million new users in the past 12 months, so it grew its user base by 17% in just one year! No matter what industry you are in, no matter what you want to achieve, you have to know SMS, its like what email was more than a decade ago, but turbo-charged, rocket-powered.

Then the much younger sibling of SMS, we have MMS, which has 2.1 Billion active users. Wow. Exactly half of all SMS users have also adopted the multimedia cousin of MMS. 2.1 Billion mobile phone users send and receive multimedia messages – pictures, videos, sounds and long-form texts, on their phones. Not only is it twice the number of personal computers in use in the world, but there are more active users of MMS than the total number of television sets worldwide, by a wide margin. The second most widely used data application, obviously (behind only SMS) whatever anyone ever thought they would want to use the computer for, whether to do newsletters or promotions or coupons or show videoclips or short music or recordings or pictures or paragraphs of text – far bigger than the reach on Facebook or Twitter or any social media, the first choice has to be MMS. How much did MMS grew its user base in the past 12 months of economic troubles in the world? try 24% ! Can you imagine something which had more users than the internet, or more users than total number of television sets – and then it grows by 24% in one year. In one year! At this rate, MMS would double in 3 years and 2 months from now. Is this a cool industry to be in, or what?

And the mobile internet (including WAP). It is now measured to be 1.3 Billion in size – and thus, out of the 2.0 Billion total internet users in the world (including PCs of any kind from desktops to laptops to tablet PCs like the iPad, at homes and at work; and PCs used at internet cafes; and mobile phone based internet access including HTML real internet on smartphones and featurephones, and the more simple and mobile phone optimised WAP browsing) – 65% use a mobile phone at least part of the time. There is absolutely no question, that the point of when ‘more people will use the internet on a phone’ – has passed. Years ago! 1.3 Billion people use a mobile phone to browse internet content, at least part of the time. The poorer the nation, the greater the proportion by which mobile leads, to the point where 90% of internet use in India is from mobile phones today, as the regulator from India reported last year.

Wow, 1.3 Billion mobile phone users, 26% of us all, already surf the web on our phones. That number is bigger than the total number of fixed landline phones globally. Not that there are more internet users than fixed landline phones, but that there are more people who use the internet on a mobile phone – than total fixed landline phones (many who are now no longer used for voice calls and only used for the home internet access, what an irony, even this cannot save the fixed landline).

Or compare that to the maxiumum accessable market size for those famed ‘App Store’ applications. If we take all existing smartphones in use – about 750 million today, and of those we use the brand new statistic we heard today that 71% of the smartphone users actually install apps onto their smartphones – the accessable market size for an ‘apps strategy’ would be 530 million. Mobile web users are more than twice as big as that market. And that market is half Symbian, Nokia’s OS. Blackberry is the second most used platform, iPhone only has less than 100 million iPhones in its total active installed base. So you could launch an iPhone app today, or if you went for the WAP/web version on a phone – it would cost you only 1/10th the cost to develop and you’d reach an active user base that is 13 times bigger. Now what was the smart strategy, again?

And we have now measured that it is true, 1.1 Billion people – 23% of mobile phone owners, receive news on their mobile phones. More than the total paid subscribers of cable TV and satellite TV who have access to 24 hour news like CNN, Sky, BBC, etc and more than twice the total circulation of all daily newspapers, free and paid. The newsmedium which has most paid users is now.. mobile! Cool. Oh, and what is the most-used format for news consumption on the phones? Its SMS of course. What is the second-most used? You guessed it, MMS of course.

4.2 Billion is SMS users, 2.1 Billion is MMS users, 1.3 Billion is mobile browsing/mobile internet users and 1.1 Billion is consumers of mobile news. Big numbers indeed.

There you go. We have some measured data on major mobile user stats. And the TomiAhonen Almanac is proving a very accurate source indeed. Now, for those readers who don’t have the Almanac, it only costs 9.99 Euros and I have a special treat for you newcomers. If you buy the TomiAhonen Almanac 2010 now, during January 2011, you will receive it instantly of course, and then you will also receive, for no further cost, the TomiAhonen Almanac 2011 edition as well, that will be released in February (for which I am obviously right now calculating and researching the data. There will again be new data in several cool new charts and tables that was not in the previous Almanac). Isn’t that a fair deal? If you ever wanted to know all the data, facts and stats about the mobile industry, now is your chance. For more info including several sample pages with full un-obscured charts and tables, see TomiAhonen Almanac 2010.


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