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Slowing Growth Ahead for Worldwide Internet Audience

This is especially true in North America and Western Europe, where internet access is commonplace

June 7, 2016 | Advertising & Marketing

By the end of 2016, nearly 47% of people worldwide will use the internet—either through a desktop/laptop computer or mobile device—a 6.8% increase over 2015. eMarketer estimates that internet adoption will surpass the halfway mark in 2018, when 51.1% of the world’s population will go online, equating to 3.82 billion people.

Internet Users and Penetration Worldwide, 2014-2020 (billions, % of population and % change)

While the internet uptake in North America and Western Europe has reached maturity, many consumers in developing countries across Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East and Africa are going online for the first time via mobile broadband and connected mobile devices, as explored in a new eMarketer report, “Worldwide Internet and Mobile Users: eMarketer’s Estimates for 2016.” Over 72% of people worldwide who access the internet will do so from a mobile phone this year, up 11.9% from 2015, with the strongest growth coming from the Middle East and Africa, followed by Latin America.

The demand for messaging services and social media is driving the uptake of mobile internet usage, especially in developing markets. The rapid adoption of WeChat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger reflects the extent to which mobile internet plays a vital role in everyday life. It has become the primary way to keep in touch with family and friends, and in some regions is a more affordable way to communicate than regular voice calling and SMS messaging.

eMarketer has increased its forecast for worldwide internet users since its previous estimates, primarily due to adjustments in population and GDP, as well as significant increases in the number of internet users in Asia-Pacific, particularly in China and India.

Smartphone Users and Penetration Worldwide, 2014-2020 (billions, % of mobile phone users and % change)

Smartphone adoption will continue its double-digit growth in 2016 to reach 2.10 billion people, or more than a quarter (28.7%) of the global population. With respect to mobile phone users, smartphones are quickly becoming more common than feature phones. eMarketer predicts 47.4% of people with mobile phones worldwide will have a smartphone this year, and that percentage will surpass 50% by 2017. The availability of inexpensive, low-end smartphones will help drive adoption over the next few years, especially in developing markets such as India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, Nigeria, Turkey, Brazil, Peru, Mexico and Vietnam.

Tablet Users and Penetration Worldwide, 2014-2020 (billions, % of internet users and % of population)

Additionally, though the number of tablet users worldwide will increase 12.2% in 2016, growth has slowed significantly over the past two years. Worldwide tablet shipments declined 10.1% in 2015, according to research firm International Data Corporation (IDC). Meanwhile, IDC data showed that smartphone shipments climbed 10.1% during the same time period. Larger-screen smartphones will contribute to the slowdown of tablet user growth in both mature and developing countries, and inexpensive smartphone models will add to the slowdown in emerging markets. eMarketer expects that about 15% of the population worldwide will use a tablet by the end of 2016; this will grow to just 19.2% by 2020, the end of the forecast period.

eMarketer has decreased its forecast of tablet users worldwide for the entire forecast period as a result of new data indicating China has a smaller tablet user base than previously expected.

eMarketer corporate subscription clients can view the full report here.

Get more on this topic with the full eMarketer report, “Worldwide Internet and Mobile Users: eMarketer’s Estimates for 2016.”

eMarketer releases over 200 analyst reports per year, which are only available to eMarketer corporate subscribers.

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