Mobile Subscribers to Reach 2.6B This Year

The number of mobile phone subscribers worldwide will rise to 2.6 billion this year and 4 billion by 2010, thanks to the development of ultra-low-cost handsets, market researcher iSuppli says.

New subscribers in developing nations such as India and China are behind the rapid increase in mobile phone users, the researcher said, while the mobile industry has rallied to the cause with ultra-low-cost handsets.

Africa and the Middle East are also playing a key role in driving new subscriber growth, said Dale Ford, vice president of market intelligence for iSuppli. He believes mobile phones have become such an important tool for people to live and thrive that they are becoming a basic human right.

Prices As Low As $15

The ultra-low-cost mobile phone initiative started early last year as a way to connect people to existing mobile networks. The GSM Association (GSMA) challenged handset makers to design a phone that would cost under $30. The eventual winner, Motorola, won the contest, as well as a contract to supply the mobile phones to network operators in emerging markets including Bangladesh, China, India and Russia, which ordered millions of the handsets under the GSMA sponsored program.

GSMA came up with the contest idea after taking a close look at the actual extent of GSM network coverage across the globe, and figuring out that over a billion more people could be using mobile networks if they could afford the handsets.

The new GSMA goal is to halve the cost of a handset again to $15 by 2008. Chip makers such as Texas Instruments, MediaTek, and Infineon Technologies, which develop the most costly components inside a mobile phone, say the $15 target is achievable, and that $20 handsets could be out by the end of this year.

China and India

ISuppli believes India will drive growth for ultra-low-cost handsets next year. The nation will be home to 405 million mobile phone subscribers by 2010, up from 140 million by the end of this year, the market researcher says.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India reports that as of the end of September, there were 129.5 million mobile phone users in the country, a huge increase from 75.9 million at the end of last year.

In China, the figure climbed to 443.2 million at the end of September, up from 393 million at the end of last year, according to the Ministry of Information Industry, that country's telecom industry regulator.

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