by Karen Coppock
The GSMA's Mobile Business Briefing and Wireless Intelligence teams just published a new report ranking mobile operators by the total number of subscribers worldwide.
The top 5 - by total number of connections - are:
China Mobile - 525M
Vodafone - 310M
Telefonica - 202M
America Movil Group - 187M
Airtel Group - 170M
Three of the top five are based in emerging markets - China Mobile in China, America Movil in Mexico and Airtel in India. Although Telefonica is based in the UK, its growth and ranking is largely based on its Latin American operations.
China Mobile's incredible size is mostly due to the immense scale of its home market - it is home to almost a fifth of the world's population. It did branch out and invest in a Pakistani operations in 2007, but has not made another investment since then and most of its subscribers are in China.
Telefonica and America Movil are de facto duopolies in the Latin American market. Telefonica has branched out and invested in operations in other European countries and even in Africa, whereas America Movil has stayed closer to home. America Movil, lead by Carlos Slim - who beat out Bill Gates for the title of the richest man in the world - has always had aspirations to tackle the US market, but has had little real success there.
Airtel jumped from 8th to 5th place due to its investment in Zain's African operations. Imagine it will be a while before it digests these new operations and is ready to make another significant investment, but it obviously has an appetite to be a global player.
Due to the vast size of emerging markets and the fact that for many of its citizens, it will be the mobile phone, and not a computer, that opens the door to the Internet, emerging-market mobile operators will likely continue to dominate the rankings in the years to come.