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Western Europe Mobile Phone Penetration

At the end of last year, the western European mobile market hit a major milestone - it officially became 100 percent penetrated. According to Informa Telecoms & Media, that number can be misleading. At the end of 2005, their data indicated that there are now as many mobile subscriptions in western Europe as there are inhabitants.

That should mean 100 percent mobile penetration, in other words that everyone in the region has a mobile subscription. But it doesn't, simply because many of these European consumers have two or more mobile subscriptions, which artificially boosts the region's penetration level.

About 11 of the 16 major markets in western Europe now have official penetration rates above the 100 percent mark. The most penetrated at the end of the year were Luxembourg (160 percent), Italy (119 percent), Portugal (114 percent) and Sweden (112 percent). Others above 100 percent include Greece, the UK, Spain, Ireland, Finland, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark.

The trouble is that no one really knows exactly how many double- or multiple- subscribers there are, let alone how many additional subscriptions each possesses.

But last year's high growth rate says it all. In every month of 2005, the region added more net subscribers than in the corresponding month of 2004. If the market were truly saturated, or even nearly so, one would expect the rate of growth to be slowing down considerably now, as there would only be a small and ever-dwindling number of potential subscribers left to target.

The reality, however, is that the market is continuing to grow strongly because a significant and growing number of mobile users in western Europe possess more than one active SIM card. This creates the impression that many of the region's markets are saturated. But it's only an illusion.

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