Is There Anywhere On Earth You Can’t Make a Mobile Call?

When we started out with the bricks that we used to call mobile phones in the 1980s, you had to wonder if they were going to last. Almost too big to fit in your briefcase, let alone your pocket, they just looked silly. You got the feeling that someone who carried one did so because they wanted everyone else to know that they could – rather than actually having any real use for it.

How times have changed. GSM, CDMA, 3G, LTE, smartphones – the list goes on. The explosion in mobile penetration has been astonishing, and here’s the thing – it’s getting faster. For instance, about 20% of people had a mobile phone in the US in 1997, and it took another 10 years for that to reach 83%. Russia, on the other hand, went through a similar growth curve in only a few years, and mobile penetration has now topped 160% there. That means that every person in Russia now has 1.6 mobile phones on average.

Looking at it globally, the math starts to get really interesting. According to the International Telecommunications Union, there were 6.4 billion mobile phone subscriptions by the end of 2012. That’s nearly one for every one of the 7 billion-odd inhabitants of our planet. The scary thing is that mobile phone growth is still way, way higher than global population growth, so it makes you wonder how many pockets we are going to need eventually to keep all our mobile phones handy.

More to the point, is there anywhere in the world you won’t find a mobile phone? Let’s look at some likely candidates.


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Afghanistan. Surely, given all its recent troubles, you wouldn’t find a mobile phone in Afghanistan, would you? Yes you would. In fact, despite having the average Afghan existing off about $3 a day, there are 18 million mobile subscribers. That’s half the population. Ehsan Bayat of Afghan Wireless was the first to set a mobile network there in 2002, and was quickly followed by a number of others. You can even get 3G data there.

What about the Democratic Republic of Congo, by most accounts the world’s poorest country? Well, there are actually six mobile operators on air there, and two more may be launching soon. Penetration is still low, but there are over 18 million subscribers there as well.

Let’s think tiny. Outside of Vatican City, Monaco is the world’s smallest country. Now, they are a rich country, so you would expect them to have mobiles, but surely they would piggyback off of a French or Italian mobile operator? Well, actually Monaco Telecom proudly serves about 28,000 subscribers.

The point is that, aside from Antarctica, you’ll be hard pressed to find any country in the world where there is no mobile operator. And, even at the South Pole, you can probably use a satellite phone.

No wonder there’s such a rush to sign up for a one-way trip to Mars.


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