New Delhi: India will likely have 500 million unique mobile phone subscribers by the end of 2015, up from 453 million last year, according to a new study by Groupe Speciale Mobile Association, a grouping of wireless operators that organizes the Mobile World Congress every year.

The country is expected to add a further 250 million subscribers by 2020 to reach 734 million, accounting for almost half of all the subscriber growth expected in the Asia-Pacific region, the report said.

At present, 13% of the world’s mobile subscribers live in India and its subscriber growth is forecast to outperform the regional and global averages over the coming years. India is the world’s second-largest mobile market behind China.

The strong growth is attributed to India’s relatively low mobile subscriber penetration rate, which stood at 36% of the population at the end of 2014, compared with a 50% global average. By 2020, the subscriber penetration rate in India is forecast to reach 54%.

“India is a unique mobile market and one where the mobile ecosystem is playing a hugely influential role in transforming the lives of its citizens, and driving economic growth," said Alex Sinclair, acting director general and chief technology officer at the association.

The total number of active mobile connections stood at 944 million in the country at the end of 2014, and is projected to rise to 1.3 billion by 2020. A unique mobile subscriber can account for multiple mobile connections (SIM cards).

Only 11% of all mobile connections in the country were on 3G and 4G data services, but are expected to make up 42% of the total by 2020. Overall, mobile internet penetration in India was 22% in 2014, and is expected to rise to 44% by 2020.

One key factor driving migration to mobile broadband is the “increasing adoption of smartphones, which has been fuelled by a raft of low-cost smartphones from both international vendors and, increasingly, via a homegrown smartphone manufacturing ecosystem," the report said.

Under the government’s Make in India initiative, many international brands such as Xiaomi, Lenovo, Coolpad, Gionee, InFocus, Oneplus, Asus and Meizu have set up manufacturing facilities in India.

“More than half a billion new smartphones connections (new SIM cards registered and used in a smartphone) are expected in India between 2015 and 2020, bringing the total to 690 million, up from 149 million in 2014." the report added.

The mobile economy or value of all transactions that happen on mobiles across sectors, has become a key driver of economic growth and job creation in the country.

The industry made a total contribution of 7.7 lakh crore ($116 billion) to the Indian economy in 2014, equivalent to 6.1% of India’s total GDP (gross domestic product), the report said.

“This contribution is forecast to almost double to 14 lakh crore by 2020, which would represent 8.2% of projected GDP by that point," it said adding the mobile industry would be directly and indirectly supporting five million in jobs in the Indian economy in 2020, up from four million in 2014.

Mobile also played “a highly significant contribution to the funding of the Indian public sector", contributing approximately 1.1 lakh crore (US$16 billion) in 2014 in the form of taxation and spectrum auction payments.

For instance, recurring revenues from internet data for telecom operators in India reached 1.8 lakh crore and are projected to cross 2.5 lakh crore by 2020. Meanwhile, total capital expenditure by these operators reached 19, 205 crore over the last four years.

With increasing mobile penetration in the country, mobile internet will assume even more significant roll in driving the Digital India initiative.

With Digital India, which aims to transform India into a digitally empowered society and provide broadband connectivity to all, the government wants to deliver services on mobile going forward.

“Due to the relative lack of fixed-line infrastructure in the country, mobile is already the dominant platform for internet access," the report stated.

The number of individuals accessing the internet over mobile devices has grown from less than 100 million subscribers in 2010 to nearly 300 million at the end of 2014.

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