In the last 20 years, the use of mobile devices has grown rapidly across the world, but different countries and regions have had varying rates of adoption. In the late 1990’s, countries in North America and Western Europe were the first areas to begin rapid adoption of mobile phones, with many countries in Western Europe reaching almost 100% penetration by 2003. These countries generally had strong wireline infrastructure, but mobile devices took off as they provided more flexible connectivity and communication.

In the last 20 years, the use of mobile devices has grown rapidly across the world, but different countries and regions have had varying rates of adoption. We developed the below visualization [click for interactivity] to highlight these global trends and the rate at which each country adopted mobile phones over the past 20 years.

> Click to interact on mobile: Global Mobile Phone Penetration (1993-2013)

Note: The data represents SIM penetration which is a proxy for overall mobile phone penetration and may vary from actual active mobile phone penetration rates.

Adoption of mobile phones

In the late 1990’s, countries in North America and Western Europe were the first areas to begin rapid adoption of mobile phones, with many countries in Western Europe reaching almost 100% penetration by 2003. These countries generally had strong wireline infrastructure, but mobile devices took off as they provided more flexible connectivity and communication.

More recently over the last 10 years, mobile phone adoption in countries in South America, North Africa, and the Middle East grew as the technology became available in these more developing markets. Interestingly, operators in many of these countries never deployed ubiquitous wireline communications or the more basic 2G mobile phone technology and deployed or are deploying more advanced mobile technologies such as 3G or 4G LTE as a primary communications network.

By 2013, many countries across the world surpassed 100% market penetration, with many individuals now owning more than one mobile phone. Notable countries that are still lagging include North Korea, Myanmar, and several countries in central Africa.

Globally, mobile devices have transformed from just a means of voice communication to a multi-function device that allows users to engage in financial services, health tracking, news and information sharing, and more. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimated global mobile phone subscriptions reached almost 7 billion in 2014, and the growth in penetration over the past two decades reflects how integrated these devices have become in our lives. However, as the market reaches saturation and growth slows in many of these countries, the question for service providers becomes how to find new avenues for revenue growth.