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The number of mobile phone users in Latin America is growing at an increasingly slower pace. eMarketer estimates the number of individuals of any age who owned at least one mobile phone and used it at least once per month inched up a mere 4.2% in 2014 to reach 395.5 million. Roughly one-third of those users lived in Brazil, with an additional 78.2 million in Mexico. Colombia (31.7 million) came in third, ahead of Argentina’s 30.0 million users during the same period.
Going forward, eMarketer estimates that overall mobile phone user growth rates in Latin America will continue to slow, reaching a low 2.0% in 2018, when 434.4 million consumers will own and use a mobile phone across the region.
Given that mobile phone adoption will grow at a pace barely above population growth rates in the region, mobile phone user penetration will hover around two-thirds of Latin America’s population throughout our forecast period. In 2018, 68.9% of people in the region will use mobile phones.
Smartphones and mobile internet are the real growth story in Latin America, though. What this means is that the current levels of mobile device adoption are nearly full, based on the level of economic development and disposable income available to the population in this region. Hence, much of the dynamic in the mobile market in the region will now focus on the substitution of feature phones with more advanced internet-enabled devices.
Under those circumstances, eMarketer predicts both categories—smartphone users and mobile phone internet users—will expand at double-digit rates through all but the last year in the forecast period, totaling 219.9 million and 316.2 million, respectively, in 2018. The figure for mobile phone internet users is higher because feature phones are expected to continue serving as a gateway to the web for low-income individuals in the region.
As usual, Brazil is leading the way in smartphone adoption; the number of smartphone users in the country will rise 25.1% this year to reach 48.6 million. Among the markets for which eMarketer provides individual estimates for this metric, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia will be the largest and fastest-growing through 2018. That year, their combined smartphone user populations will represent roughly two-thirds of the regional total.
Brazil leads mobile phone internet adoption—including navigation via feature phones—in absolute terms, with 70.4 million such users in 2014. Mexico, on the other hand, had the greatest mobile phone user penetration at 57.7%—Brazil’s stood at 51.3%. The two regional giants accounted for 59.5% of total mobile phone internet users in Latin America last year, a share that will remain stable through 2018, when it will drop slightly to 58.8%.
Meanwhile, Argentina will add just under 8 million mobile phone internet users between 2014 and 2018, rising from 14.2 million to 22.1 million. In comparison, the group of countries outside the three largest economies in the region will reach a whopping 108.1 million in 2018, up from 64.5 million last year.
eMarketer bases all of its forecasts on a multipronged approach that focuses on both worldwide and local trends in the economy, technology and population, along with company-, product-, country- and demographic-specific trends, and trends in specific consumer behaviors. We analyze quantitative and qualitative data from a variety of research firms, government agencies, media outlets and company reports, weighting each piece of information based on methodology and soundness.
In addition, every element of each eMarketer forecast fits within the larger matrix of all its forecasts, with the same assumptions and general framework used to project figures in a wide variety of areas. Regular re-evaluation of each forecast means those assumptions and framework are constantly updated to reflect new market developments and other trends.
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