Mobile phone biz hits 3.3 billion subs


BRUSSELS -- The worldwide mobile telephone industry has passed a key landmark, reaching 3.3 billion subscriptions, or half the planet's population, research has revealed.

The moment came Thursday, according to analysts Informa Telecoms & Media, which said it represents a spectacular growth for a technology just over a quarter of a century old.

Since its birth in 1981, when the first mobile telephony network was switched on in Scandinavia, the now ubiquitous mobile phone has become one of the world's great success stories, Informa said.

The group added that new applications such as Internet connections, MP3 players and mobile broadcasting will give the cell phone even more influence over the next few years.

"The mobile industry has constantly outperformed even the most optimistic forecasts for subscriber growth," Informa chief research officer Mark Newman said. "For children growing up today the issue is not whether they will get a mobile phone, it's a question of when. It is difficult to imagine how a modern economy could function without mobile telephony and a number of recent studies have shown that the mobile phone is having a hugely positive impact on the economies of emerging markets."

Informa estimates that mobile networks covered 90% of the global population by mid-2007. This means that some 40% of the world's inhabitants are covered by a network but not connected, with just 10% with neither coverage nor connection.

However, while global mobile subscriptions have reached the equivalent of 50% of the global population, this does not mean that half of the world's 6.6 billion or so people now have a mobile phone.

Many mature markets worldwide -- including Ireland, which had 114% penetration at the end of the second quarter of 2007 -- already have in excess of 100% mobile penetration, as users sign up for more than one subscription.