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At the turn of the year, the number of global mobile connections reached 4 billion. On a global basis, connections growth is accelerating, adding its most recent billion in less than 18 months (the 3 billion mark was reached in 3Q07). According to Wireless Intelligence, the next billion global connections could be achieved by the third-quarter of next year.
This growth is being driven by developing countries within regions such as Asia-Pacific and Africa, which now account for over half of all global connections. Asia-Pacific – currently accounting for some 42.75 percent of the global market – has been swelled by growth in China and India, the world’s two largest mobile markets.
GSM remains the dominant network standard accounting for 81 percent of connections, roughly the same share it commanded when the 3 billion mark was achieved in 3Q07. GSM accounts for the vast majority of connections in emerging regions such as Africa (96.1 percent), Eastern Europe (95.1 percent) and the Middle East (94.8 percent). However, its 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 net 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 in 3Q07 (3 billion milestone) to 7.9 percent in 4Q08 (4 billion). It is forecast to account for 12.8 percent of connections by the time the market reaches the 5 billion mark, by which point GSM is forecast to account for around 77 percent.
The CDMA family of technologies has seen a similar migration to high-speed networks. However, growth has been largely concentrated in North America via operators such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint in the US, and Telus and Bell Mobility in Canada. CDMA connections have been declining in Latin America in recent quarters, mainly due to Telefonica migrating its Latin American markets to GSM. In Asia-Pacific, China Telecom recently acquired China Unicom’s CDMA network and is investing heavily to revitalise the network. CDMA also accounts for some 25 percent of connections in India, where several operators run both CDMA and GSM networks. The CDMA family of technologies saw its share of global mobile connections shrink from 12.18 percent in 3Q07 to 10.28 percent in 4Q08.
The last 18 months has also seen a number of older generation network technologies begin to be phased out, including TDMA, cdmaOne and PDC, Japan’s proprietary ‘2G’ standard. This has seen the proportion of non-CDMA/GSM connections shrink to less than 1 percent of the global total, compared to 1.75 percent in 3Q07. This leaves iDEN – the Push-To-Talk (PTT) technology used primarily in the US and Latin America – as the only significant wireless standard in popular use outside of the CDMA and GSM/WCDMA families. iDEN accounted for 0.54 percent of global mobile connections in 4Q08, down from 0.80 percent in 3Q07.