China Mobile, Vodafone and Airtel top subscriber ranking

Survey from Ovum positions telcos in terms of subscriber numbers
China Mobile is the operator with the most mobile subscribers.
China Mobile is the operator with the most mobile subscribers.


China Mobile is the front runner in the latest mobile subscription rankings from research firm Ovum, Vodafone came second, and India’s Bharti Airtel took third place. The operators were measured in terms of proportionate subscriptions.

Mai Barakat, senior analyst, Middle East and Africa, Telecoms, said: “Based on the rankings in late 2014, Bharti Airtel overtook China Unicom in terms of proportionate subscriptions to become the third-ranked global operator, behind Vodafone in second place, and China Mobile in the top spot, in the new edition of Ovum’s World Cellular Investors database, which provides the proportionate subscriber data for leading cellular investors, showing their equity investment in cellular network operators, as well as last-quarter subscriber data for each network.”

As China Mobile, with 633 million proportionate subscriptions at end-1Q15, and China Unicom, with 299 million, only operate in China, Vodafone and Bharti Airtel are the largest and second largest international mobile operating groups in the world, respectively, because they both operate in multiple markets. At end-1Q15, Vodafone had 408 million proportionate subscriptions and Bharti Airtel had 314 million.

Bharti Airtel's telecoms investments are spread across 20 countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The groups’ purchase of Zain Africa subsdiaries in early 2010 was its first step in pushing the group up the rankings, as it had gained a footprint in 15 new markets. Following this, Bharti continued to expand in the region: It announced the acquisition of Warid Congo in November 2013, following on from its acquisition of Warid Uganda in April 2013. More recently, Bharti Airtel signed a definitive agreement in September 2014 to acquire Essar Telecommunications in Kenya.
Barakat commented, “Bharti has successfully moved itself up from being sixth in the rankings of the top 10 global investors in 2010 to third by end-1Q15 through its focus on investing in emerging markets which it believes have the potential to develop its brand and see strong growth.”

Meanwhile, Vodafone has maintained its position as the second largest global investor over the last five years, with its main investments in Africa and Europe. America Movil and Telefonica at the end of 1Q15 ranked as the fifth and sixth largest mobile operating groups respectively.

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