The world’s population recently hit 7 billion, and mobile connections aren’t far behind. ABI Research predicts that mobile subscriptions worldwide will reach 6 billion by year’s-end, with the Asia-Pacific region accounting for more than half the total.
Nearly 1 billion connections have been added in Asia over the last two years, fueled by the region’s rapid economic expansion and infrastructure build-out including wireless networks.
Asia still lags when it comes to high-speed access. Less than 18% of the 3 billion connections are 3G- and 4G-enabled, but that’s expected to change quickly. “Mobile broadband connections will experience rapid growth over the next two years, driven by 3G network rollouts in India and China and 4G deployments in Japan and South Korea,” according to ABI Practice Director Dan Shey.
China passed the 100 million mark in 3G subscriptions in September, representing just 10% of its total mobile population. The shift to 3G is expected to ramp up in India as well. The country’s largest operator, Bharti Airtel, drew 3 million 3G customers after less than six months in operation this year. ABI said low-cost smart feature phones are already entering these emerging markets to drive 3G connections among consumers.
Growth in the worldwide mobile phone market slowed to 12.8% in the third quarter as smartphone demand cooled in mature markets like the U.S. and Europe, according to IDC. However, phone sales rebounded in Asia with Nokia regaining momentum in the feature phone market in China and Japan increasing mobile buying after two quarters of low or no growth resulting from last spring’s tsunami.
Plus, a new Strategy Analytics report says China overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest smartphone maker by volume in the third quarter. China reached 23.9 million units shipped in the third quarter, up 58% from the prior quarter, compared to 23.3 million in the U.S. But the U.S. remains the top smartphone market by revenue. Aiding smartphone growth in China is an emerging wave of low-cost Android models from local Chinese brands, such as ZTE.
Mobile connections in the U.S. should get a year-end lift from what are expected to be strong sales of devices including smartphones, tablets and e-readers during the holiday season. Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet, for instance, is projected to sell as many as 5 million units during the fourth quarter alone.