How Many People Own Cell Phones?

Michael Kwan
College students using cell phones

Have you ever wondered how many people own cell phones? When it comes to the adoption rate for modern technology, few products have risen in popularity quite as quickly as the mobile phone.

How Many People Own Cell Phones?

Before being able to discuss how many people own cell phones, it must first be noted that most of the figures released by the various reporting bodies in the industry are only able to determine the current number of cell phones in use. Even then, these figures are largely based on estimates and not on individual counts.

Why is this differentiation important? Consider this analogy. Say that there are ten people in the room and, among these ten people, they are wearing a total of ten pieces of jewelry. Does this mean, then, that each and every one of the ten people in the room is wearing a single piece of jewelry? No. It is a very real possibility that only one person in the room is wearing jewelry; she just happens to be wearing ten pieces and the other nine people are wearing none.

The same can be said about mobile phones. It is quite common for certain individuals to own and use more than one cell phone.

Wireless Penetration in the United States

Not surprisingly, cell phones have quickly risen in popularity in the United States in the last decade. When looking at the number of cell phones in the United States, there were only an estimated 97 million active units in June 2000. That figure has since grown to nearly 300 million by June 2010, representing a shift from just 34% total wireless penetration to an incredible 93% wireless penetration.

Indeed, CTIA-The Wireless Association reports that 24.5% of American households are wireless-only households (as of June 2010). This means that fully a quarter of households in the United States do not have a landline telephone, opting instead to rely solely on mobile phones. Part of this has to do with business growth, but it also has to do with the relative affordability of cellular phones. Why have a landline when a mobile phone will suffice on its own?

The Rise of Smartphones

From the iPhone to BlackBerry, Google Android to Windows Phone 7, smartphones are quickly becoming much more mainstream. When asking how many people own cell phones, it's also interesting to ask about the number of people who have switched from "feature" phones to smartphones instead.

According to a report released by Nielsen in March 2010, smartphones are set to overtake features phones by the end of 2011. In the fourth quarter of 2009, only 21% of phones in the United States were smartphones, but that number is expected to surpass 50% by the fourth quarter of 2011. This has a huge impact on how people interact with their phones and how the network providers have to address these needs from their customers.

Cell Phones Around the World

Looking outside of the United States, some figures are even more startling. It is estimated that there are approximately five billion mobile phones in use around the world. Considering that the world population is estimated at nearly 6.9 billion people, that represents an overall penetration rate of 72.6%.

Emerging markets, like China and India, have a great deal to do with this international growth. This is largely because of the increasing availability of cheap cellular phones that are more affordable to people with less money. In many areas, a landline telephone simply is not a viable solution, but an inexpensive prepaid mobile phone is a viable solution.

Interestingly, there are several countries where the wireless penetration exceeds 100%. In the case of Russia, as an example, it has been reported that there are approximately 214 million mobile phones in a nation that is comprised of only 142 million people. This works out to a penetration rate of nearly 150%, meaning there are three phones for every two citizens.

With approximately three-quarters of the world's population using cell phones, mobile phones have become a way of life, not unlike automobiles and the Internet.

How Many People Own Cell Phones?