For the first time ever, all three major Russian mobile operators lost subscribers in early 2012, according to a report from AC&M Consulting, a Russian management consulting and research agency specializing in telecommunications and media.

Vimpelcom, MTS and Megafon saw their active subscriber bases – defined on a six- or three-month basis – shrink by 1.6 million, 579,000, and 1,500 people respectively.

This recent evolution could be a sign of market saturation, AC&M analysts say.

In 2011 the operators sold no fewer than 100 million SIM cards, but their combined subscriber bases grew by just 8 million. The growth was fuelled essentially by new users of mobile Internet access and M2M services rather than voice service subscribers, according to AC&M Consulting.

Mobile penetration in Russia

Source: AC&M Consulting

With over 227 million active SIM cards in Russian mobile networks by the end of 2011, the mobile penetration rate reached 156.8%. Not only did virtually the entire Russian population use mobile phones, many people used more than one SIM card.