A few years ago, I tried to estimate the total annual market value of handset subsidies by mobile operators. I seem to recall that I came out with a figure of perhaps $20-30bn a year.
Roughly speaking, that's perhaps 400m of the world's phones sold annually that are subsidised / bundled, at perhaps an average $60 each. The exact numbers are unimportant for this discussion.
Most of these are 'locked in' to contracts of typically 12-24 months. So in other words there's probably >$30bn of subsidised handsets in users' hands at any point in time.
This begs a couple of questions:
1) If you look at the relative price of similar subsidised / unsubsidised contracts+phone combinations (for example looking at markets like Italy or Finland for which subsidy is unusual or illegal), what's the implicit cost to the consumer of financing their handset purchase? What's the APR (annual percentage rate) on that loan? And if it's higher than normal retail financing (say in comparison with an electronics retailer) is there a market opportunity for 3rd-party "phone loans" at cheaper rates?
2) Should mobile operators be forced by regulators (telecom and/or banking) to either unbundle phone+finance+subscription, or at least quote an implicit APR on the financing?
3) Do mobile operators really want to be in the consumer credit business at the moment? And how do they quantify their exposure to credit risk?