Argentina is the fourth-largest country in Latin America both by population and GDP. It is also the fourth-largest mobile market, as measured by mobile users, as explored in a new eMarketer report, “Mobile Argentina 2016: Updated Forecasts and Key Growth Trends” (eMarketer PRO customers only).
eMarketer projects that 71.4% of Argentina’s population will own at least one mobile phone and use it at least once per month in 2016, totaling 31.3 million people. Relative to population size, its mobile phone user penetration trails only that of Chile (73.9%). In absolute terms, Argentina ranks fourth behind Brazil (133.5 million mobile phone users), Mexico (84.4 million) and Colombia (33.0 million), all countries with larger populations.
Already one of the most mature mobile markets in the region, Argentina’s mobile phone user base will increase just 2.1% in 2016. Growth rates will continue to dwindle throughout the rest of the decade, slowing to 1.4% by 2020, when the mobile phone audience will be 33.3 million.
Mobile phone user estimates from other sources are more bullish but likewise point up the maturity of the mobile market. For example, GSMA estimates that 90% of consumers in Argentina were mobile phone users in 2015, a proportion that has held steady since 2013. By GSMA’s reckoning, the country ranked second in Latin America for mobile phone user penetration, behind only Chile (93%).
Mobile connection penetration—a broader metric that focuses on devices instead of individuals—reached 141% in 2015, down from a high of 146% in 2013. GSMA estimates there were 63 million mobile connections in Argentina last year, for a second 1% annual reduction in a row. The decline could reflect economic woes, but it is likely that users, accustomed to maintaining multiple mobile connections to save money, may be shifting behavior and consolidating their usage to a single device or connection.
For the past five years, consumers in Argentina have increasingly ditched feature phones and 2G connections in favor of faster 3G smartphones; 4G devices have recently also become popular. Consumers expecting the launch of LTE networks may have held on to older devices in 2014, to then upgrade to a new device. (According to 5G Americas, LTE deployments in Argentina began in December 2014.) While year-by-year data showing this transition is not publicly available, GSMA estimates that the portion of voice-only mobile phone subscribers in Argentina dropped from 38% to 29% of the population between 2010 and 2015. By comparison, the share of 2G mobile internet subscribers dropped from 35% to 28% during that period. The combined share of mobile broadband connections (including 3G and 4G) rose sharply from 5% to 37%.
eMarketer estimates that the number of smartphone users in Argentina will rise 16.9% to reach 16.2 million people in 2016, equivalent to 37.1% of the population and just over half (51.9%) of mobile phone users. Among the six countries in Latin America tracked by eMarketer, Argentina will be ahead of only Peru (8.6 million) and Chile (7.9 million)—both with significantly smaller populations—in terms of smartphone users.
eMarketer predicts that the tipping point for smartphone user penetration in Argentina won’t come until 2020, when more than half of the population (51.5%) will be smartphone users for the first time, totaling 23.4 million people and representing 70.1% of mobile phone users.
By comparison, smartphone connections (i.e., smartphones in use) will continue to multiply at an even faster clip. According to GSMA estimates, the number of smartphones in use will rise 26.6% to total 31.4 million this year. Double-digit growth will persist almost through 2019, and by 2020, smartphone connections will reach 51.2 million.