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There are more than a billion 4G mobile connections in use around the world, and 4G will account for a third of all mobile connections at the end of the current decade, according to the latest sector forecast from the GSM Association (GSMA).
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On the opening day of Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona, the GSMA unveiled the latest edition of its Mobile Economy report. It showed a major shift towards 3G and 4G mobile broadband networks in developed and emerging markets, with a concurrent acceleration in digital innovation, smartphone take-up and data usage.
It calculated that the mobile industry was worth approximately $3.1tn (£2.2tn) to the world economy and represented 4.2% of worldwide gross domestic product in 2015.
This is predicted to rise to $3.7tn by 2020, with 32 million jobs directly and indirectly supported, rising to 36 million. In 2016, the industry will contribute $430bn in public funding based on current levels of taxation. This is expected to rise to $480bn at the end of the decade, excluding spectrum licence fees, which will add another $90bn.
“The unprecedented growth in mobile broadband in 2015 is testament to the billions of dollars that mobile operators have invested in next-generation networks, services and spectrum in recent years,” said GSMA director general Mats Granryd.
“Mobile is the most ubiquitous platform for people and businesses to connect and innovate in today’s digital economy.”
The number of 4G connections doubled in 2015, according to the GSMA, primarily because of the accelerating roll-out in markets such as India. There are 451 live 4G networks running in 151 countries, half of them in emerging markets.
The GSMA said that better access and smartphone adoption was creating an explosion in data usage. Volume is expected to show a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 49% through to 2021, hitting 40 exabytes per calendar month by 2020, or seven gigabites per user.
The report revealed there were 4.7 billion unique mobile subscribers around the world – or 63% of the total human population, which will rise to 70% by 2020.
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The GSMA said the widespread and growing availability of mobile was accelerating the ability to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals This is through improving access to education, healthcare and financial services; delivering smart city, smart agriculture and internet of things systems; and closing the gender gap.
However, to continue to meet these challenges, governments need to enhance mobile regulation, which can quickly become obsolete or even harmful in the face of such rapid change, said Granryd.
“Recognising these challenges, the mobile industry is calling on policymakers worldwide to adapt out-dated market regulations to reflect the digital ecosystem,” he said.