Cell-Phone Connections Hit 4 Billion

Just a few weeks ago, at the beginning of the year, the number of mobile connections around the world reached 4 billion. That means it's been less than 18 months from when the industry reached the 3 billion connections mark in the third quarter of 2007.

On a global basis, connections growth is accelerating rapidly, according to industry global database Wireless Intelligence. And they believe that the next billion global connections could be achieved by the third-quarter of 2010. This new growth is reportedly being driven by developing countries. Asia-Pacific, including China and India, as well as African regions now account for over half of all global connections.

The report says GSM remains the dominant network standard accounting for 81 percent of connections. In the U.S., AT&T ( T) and T-Mobile ( DT) use the GSM standard. GSM also accounts for the majority of connections in emerging regions such as Africa (96.1 percent), Eastern Europe (95.1 percent) and the Middle East (94.8 percent).

But, the GSM standard's share in more developed markets is shrinking as customers migrate to the WCDMA family of technologies, the primary migration path for GSM operators. In Western Europe, GSM now accounts for less than 75 percent of connections, with WCDMA and WCDMA-HSPA taking a significant share of the new additions.

WCDMA connections are expected to swell considerably this year as operators in China and India switch on their first WCDMA networks, while some operators that are belatedly moving to the technology -- T-Mobile USA, for example -- are moving directly to WCDMA-HSPA.

The WCDMA family of technologies increased its global market share from 5 percent to 7.9%. It is expected to account for 12.8% of all connections by the time the market reaches the 5 billion mark. By then, GSM is should account for approximately 77%.

The CDMA family of technologies has seen a similar migration to high-speed networks. Growth has been largely concentrated here in North America via Verizon Wireless ( VZ) and Sprint ( S) in the U.S. and Telus ( TU) and Bell Mobility in Canada.

CDMA connections have also been declining in Latin America mainly due to Telefonica ( TEF) migrating its Latin American markets to GSM. In Asia-Pacific, China Telecom recently acquired China Unicom's ( CHU) CDMA network and is investing heavily to revitalize the network.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.

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