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Chinese, Indian and African Cellphone Markets Skyrocket, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

China is the world’s largest cellular market, with more than 1.35 billion subscriptions as of early 2017 (out of a population of about 1.37 billion).  China Mobile Ltd. is China’s largest carrier with 837.0 million subscriptions as of mid-2016.  4G connections were dominant in China by 2017, and 5G is expected to post rapid growth beginning in 2020.  Also by 2020, GSMA Intelligence expects 74% of Chinese subscribers to have smartphones.

India had an estimated 750 million mobile phone users in mid-2017 (out of a population of about 1.31 billion).  India has seen phenomenal growth in subscriptions in recent years due to aggressive competition among telecom firms and the issue of licenses by the Indian government.  Bharti Airtel had 265.8 million wireless customers as of December 2016, followed by Vodafone with 204.7 million.  In early 2017, Vodafone announced plans to merge with Idea Cellular, Ltd. (India’s number three carrier).  Should the merger go through, the new company would be the largest in India by number of subscribers.  New to the mobile phone market in India is Jio, a 4G carrier owned by Reliance Industries, which has invested more than $20 billion in infrastructure to deliver high-speed connectivity throughout India.

The cellphone market in the continent of Africa is also growing quickly.  In a continent where land-based telephone lines are concentrated in only a few areas, cellular service is the first modern infrastructure many Africans enjoy.  There were an estimated 1 billion wireless subscriptions in Africa by 2017.  GSMA Intelligence expects this to grow to 1.3 billion by 2020, which will represent a 93% population market penetration.  Phones marketed to these areas tend to be simple.  Costs are kept extremely low to make the phones affordable.  Nokia and Vodafone are targeting the very low-cost market, as are specialty manufacturers such as ZTE Corp., a Chinese handset maker with phones starting under $20.  The African market for more sophisticated smartphones is on the rise.

Charging the batteries in cellphones is a major challenge in the emerging world, where electric supply is often not reliable or of limited availability.  ZTE introduced a solar-powered handset, the Coral-200, which can retail in the $40 range.

Substantial growth in cellphone use in Africa is being fueled by two factors:  First, both handsets and services are extremely inexpensive there, which is vital in this low-income market.  Next, and equally important for most users throughout the continent, cellphones provide the only reliable, affordable, easy-to-obtain access to modern communications.



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